Chapter 1: Overture
“Please!” Inigo lets out a gasping breath. His lungs sear with each movement, accompanied by a sickly warmth that drenches his side. One hand is pressed into the wound, but it’s not doing much to stop the worrying blood flow.
The pink-haired, bright red-eyed boy sits before the stone altar where a large statue of Naga gazes silently down at him.
The sound of rain and a weathering storm roar through the open door as lightning violently cracks over the black sky.
Inigo looks up to the statue, the sound of his pounding heartbeat almost deafening. “Please, Naga…” He chokes, lowering his head before her. “We can’t do this anymore- Everyone else is gone, I don’t know what to do!”
Inigo feels burning tears well up in his eyes and he lets out a strangled sob. The pain is quickly turning to numbness and his breaths are becoming shorter and harsher.
He wants his family.
He wants his mother, who could solve any problem, who was always there by his side.
He wants his father, who was the strongest warrior in the realm, who could turn any fight around.
He wants his sister, who’d be a shoulder to cry on, who’s the strongest person he knows.
He wants to go home.
Inigo sinks down into the ground, his head slowly filling with a soft buzzing. He’s so tired…
“Sleep, my child.” A quiet voice, hardly audible, whispers in the wind. “Sleep now, and I shall come to you.”
Inigo wakes up on dry stone. His eyes open blearily, blinking through the pale sunlight that shines into them.
He sits up stiffly, spotting his sword on the ground beside him and, still wrapped in red fabric, the hilt of Falchion gleams beside it.
“…Ugh.” Inigo looks around. He sees the statue above him, the altar beside him, and the open doorway to the rolling hills north of Ylisstol.
Despite the storm, the temple is warm and dry and, somehow, a few streaks of sunlight have permeated the deep red cloud layer over the sky.
Slowly, Inigo gets to his feet. Then, he pauses. “…Wait.” He frowns. He places one hand on his side but feels no pain. The arrow that pierced into his side had torn deep into his flesh but, as Inigo pulls the fabric of his top aside, he sees nothing there, not even a scar or the blood he knows it spilt.
Suddenly cautious, Inigo turns back to the statue of Naga. “Did you-”
“Inigo!” A voice suddenly calls out.
Inigo snaps his head over to the doorway, where two figures stand as dark silhouettes slowly coming into view.
“Owain?” Inigo blinks, seeing the familiar, obnoxious yellow. “Severa!” He grins at the sight of the disgruntled redhead.
“Cousin!” Owain sprints towards Inigo arms open. “You’re alive!”
“You’re such an idiot!” Severa walks over at a more leisurely pace. Her arms are crossed over her chest and a frown is implanted over her face. “Do you get off on scaring us to death!?”
“Sorry-” Inigo’s words are muffled as Owain collides with him. “Woah!”
“What the hell happened?” Severa asks, walking towards the statue. She frowns suspiciously at it, and then to the two blades on the ground. “Did you sleep here?”
“Passed out, more like.” Inigo glances over to her. “Actually, the weirdest thing happened-”
“Yes!” Owain suddenly releases him. “We must trade tales of our glorious exploits of the waning night! I, Owain Dark, and my compatriot, the fleet-footed Severa-”
“Shut it!” Severa kicks him in the leg.
“Ow!” Owain sends her a glare. “Our dear friend deserves to hear of our illustrious escapades in wake of our separation from one another!”
“We’ll get to that.” Severa turns back to Inigo. “What weird thing?”
“I…” Inigo turns to face Naga. “I think-”
A sudden flash of light envelops the room.
“Ah!’ Inigo startles, raising his hands up to cover his face.
“Fuck-” Severa clamps her eyes closed, one hand flying to her sword.
“What!?” Owain slaps his hands over his eyes and has to catch himself from stumbling backwards.
The trio open their eyes to the room around them. The once pale light is now strikingly bright, lit up by the aura radiating from the glowing figure mere feet away from them.
“…Naga?” Inigo stares at the woman in awe, her image too similar to her depictions in on the temple walls around them.
Owain, behind him, cautiously lowers his hands. “By the Gods…”
“I’m sorry,” Naga repeats. Her aura slowly fades and she lowers onto the ground, her feet making contact with the grey stone. “I wish I could have intervened sooner.”
“You’re… really here?” Inigo blinks. “Did you heal me?”
Naga smiles gently. “Indeed, young one.”
“What took you so long?” Severa scowls bitterly. “After years of fighting on our own, why turn up now?”
“My apologies,” Naga says. “Grima’s revival had damaged by strength, I was forced to focus all my being into simply remaining as I am.” She lowers her head sadly. “I am afraid that even now, I am far from my full strength.”
“Is there nothing that can be done?” Inigo quickly asks. “Everyone else- We’re the only ones left.”
“I may not be the one who can help you,” Naga says. “But I know of another way.”
“What possible path have we left unexplored?” Owain blurts. “We’ve tried every means- Every lead in the world we could find.”
“It would be impossible to reach otherwise,” Naga says. “For it lies in another world completely.” She begins to regain her soft glow. “You must seek out the Anankos, the Silent Dragon, a God of a world seperate from ours.” She looks down at the trio. “He holds the power that could grant you a chance at victory over Grima and his armies.”
“Another world?” Inigo asks. “Is it possible?”
“It is the only possibility left,” Naga says. Her shine brightens and the temple interior around them starts to swirl with magical light. “I have enough power now to send you there, you must seek out the dragon there and receive his power.”
“W-Wait, we’re going now?” Inigo glances around the room, watching it slowly disappear.
“I cannot remain here long,” Naga says. “This is our only chance.” She raises her hands in the air and the light starts to fade into blues. “Be wary, resilient heroes, of the truths you hold and the powers of your blood. This new world is similar and different to the one you know, and you may be restrained there for years hence. Stay safe and return here renewed.” She smiles, softly and quietly to herself. “Find there the strength that I could not provide. Save this world, heroes.”
And it all faded to white.
Chapter 2: Prelude
“Hold on.” Inigo smiles softly at the young girl in front of him. She has tears in her eyes and dirt matted through her hair. Her clothes are brown and hand-sewn but are now torn by time and wear.
Inigo gently presses a clean rag onto the large scrape over her leg. Thin pin-pricks of blood start to stain the fabric as the girl lets out a hiss.
“Almost done.” Inigo grins at her and then up to her mother beside them. As quickly as he can manage, Inigo tucks a strip of fabric around her leg and ties it into a tight knot. The girl stops crying and looks down at it curiously as Inigo leans back. “There.” He smiles at the girl’s mother. “It’s the best I can do under these circumstances, I’m afraid, but it’s better than nothing.”
“Thank you.” The woman leans down to sit by her daughter. The manacles around her legs clatter with the movement and she winces at the sound.
Inigo glances over to the barred door to the cell, but the silhouette of the guard doesn’t move. “All clear,” He whispers, looking back at the pair.
The mother nods silently and places her arms over her daughter, bringing her close to her chest.
With another smile, Inigo awkwardly gets to his feet, careful not to make any sound, and walks over to the nearby wall of the cell.
There’s about a dozen of them in the small room, but it’s not crowded enough that there’s no space at all. The sour smell of bile and rot infects the air, with only a soft breeze wafting in through a small window with the evening light.
Sitting up against the stone wall, Inigo spots a row of tally marks carved into the floor. They’re old and partially worn away, but whoever made them must’ve been here for a long time. Inigo just hopes that he won’t be here for so long.
Of course, it’s already been a good few weeks since he, Owain, and Severa were ambushed alongside a merchant caravan as they moved through the Hoshidan countryside. They’d ended up being separated in the fray, and then Inigo and half of the civilians had been captured by the strangely well armed mercenary-like group and then hauled off to whatever place they were now.
Most of the time, they stayed in cells and the like, but Inigo and a few others had been brought out to do physical labour or hospitality services for the rich Hoshidans that live in the castle-like manor. And, of course, the Hoshidans that claim Inigo and his new friends to be their slaves are far from benevolent.
In the short of it, Inigo is very ready to get out of here.
With a sigh, Inigo rubs at this bruised arms, the reds of the day fading into yellows and blues. Luckily, the Hoshidans apparently like how he looks from the shoulders up; they remark about how the shade of his hair is like that of the royal family, or how unique the reds of his eyes are.
Still, it’s not an ideal situation, and Inigo is constantly on the lookout for… well, he’s not sure what he’s looking for yet, but he’ll know when he sees it.
The next day, Inigo is brought out of his cell and ferried into a small changing room just down the corridor. Down here, everything is made of stone bricks and hard edges instead of the elegantly carved wood and tatami of the upstairs.
So Inigo changes into a simple, Hoshidan-style servant uniform in the cold, dark room, trying to ignore the guards lingering nearby.
He’s taken upstairs with a few others, out of the dark and gloomy and into the luxurious and bright. Luckily, Inigo has always had an affinity with languages and a knack for picking up foreign mannerisms. He’d had to help Severa and Owain learn in the first few months. Of course, his natural skills have nothing on the abilities he inherited from his parents, but he’d prefer not to let them out while he’s stuck in servitude. He doesn’t need anymore reason to be singled out here. He’d rather do what he can for his friends in private.
Inigo stands with the others in a small, long room, where a nicely dressed man barks orders at them. Apparently they’re expecting an important guest that afternoon, and everyone’s been instructed to help with preparations.
With a few others, Inigo is led down to the gardens. It’s about as close as he’ll get to being properly outside again. The gardens are a collection of indoor and outdoor areas of carefully crafted aesthetics that Inigo can’t help but marvel at. Usually, he’s restricted to the inside gardens but for this morning their little group is pulling weeds and pruning hedges out the front of the manor. Plenty of guards are standing by, however, and their uniform is long enough that they can keep their manacles on without anyone having to see them.
Shuffling around with a blunt pair of shears and some too-thin gloves, Inigo can’t help but dawdle in his work. As he rips another small, leafy green around the ground, though, Inigo realises that he might’ve wanted to get more done.
A man in a colourfully printed robe struts through the front gates, a small posse of men and women walking in after him. Lord Obai is the current master of the expansive household, a man obsessed with luxury and his self image, but also with a darker affinity for violence. He holds his head high as he laughs with another man at his side. As Obai enders his estate, he gives each of the slaves a withering glare as he looks down on them.
Inigo ducks his head down beside a large bush and tries to look busy as the man passes.
“Oh, I’ve found you.”
Inigo can hear the smirk on the man’s lips. Footsteps start walking towards him and, accepting his fate, Inigo turns to meet them.
“Working hard?” Obai walks straight up to Inigo, a coy smile on his face. “Unfortunatley, I’ll have to pull you away for the day.” He looks around and gestures for the nearest guard.
With a clattering of armour, a grizzled man comes towards them.
“Take this one back inside,” Obai curtly orders. He hardly gives the guard a glance. “Have him dressed properly to meet in the salon in an hour.”
Inigo mentally curses. Shit.
Ryoma sits quietly in a luxurious red and white carriage. Pale light passes easily through the paper window that blocks out the surrounding landscape. A thick paper scroll lies over Ryoma’s lap, the prince dutifully reading through it as the carriage moves smoothly forwards.
Though he appears to be alone, he’s acutely aware of both of his retainers lingering nearby. As if on queue by the thought, the side-facing door barley slides open and then closed again. Saizo takes a seat across from Ryoma in a respectful silence.
Ryoma gently rolls the paper back up before looking up at Saizo. “Report?”
“We will arrive within the hour,” Saizo says. “There are active patrols along the road in this area and there have been no signs of trouble yet.” The final word comes at a whisper. A knowing look is shared between the two men. Yes, at a time like this, it is instrumental that they remain on alert.
Ryoma himself had been cautious about visiting this certain courtier, with unsettling rumours spreading through the royal court. While he’s been assured of his safety on this venture, still Ryoma will be on the lookout to see if those rumours ring true.
With a slight sigh, Ryoma watches Saizo disappear back outside without another word. A short wafting breeze passes into the small space, smelling of wildflowers and grasses. Ryoma smiles softly. Hopefully, too, he can find some peace.
Inigo sits in wait. The room around him is lavishly decorated, with huge, carefully hand-painted boards along the walls depicting scenes of sparkling animals amongst a fertile waterhole. A crane jumps into the air, wings outstretched and raining feathers down over the doorway.
Inigo’s new outfit just included a finely made robe to go over his existing one. It’s more than a little disconcerting to be placed in something so obviously expensive, especially with Obai’s usual tendencies.
There’s a table set up in the middle of the room, a black teapot and tea set on a porcelain tray. Golden handles reflect the beams of light coming from the barred windows up near the ceiling. A bird sings somewhere outside and Inigo wishes for nothing more than to join it.
But, for now, he sits still and in silence.
The door slides open.
Obai steps inside and it closes behind him.
The room almost feels to drop a few degrees as he approaches.
“I hope you weren’t waiting too long.” Obai has a short, Hoshidan-style whip in his hand and a long, bronze pipe in the other. A few wisps of smoke flow from his lips as he grins. “Did you miss me?”
Inigo purses his lips and says nothing.
Obai looks like he expected it, his smile only widening as he walks over to the low table. He lowers himself beside it, onto one of the red, square pillows. He gestures for Inigo to join him.
“You know that we are expecting an esteemed guest today.” Obai watches Inigo start to pour the tea. “I will not tolerate any misbehaviour, understand?”
Inigo furrows his brows, watching Obai’s cup fill to the brim before he pulls away. He doesn’t notice Obai moving.
“Do you understand?” A sharpness to his voice causes Inigo to pauses, eyes darting over to the man. But he’s not fast enough.
The short whip flies through the air with a crack, hitting the back of Inigo’s hands.
“Guh-” Inigo fumbles with the pot, practically dropping it back onto the tray as he reels his hands back.
“You will speak when spoken to.” Obai looks over him, smile never fading. “Understand?”
“Yes…” Inigo inspects his hands. A long red line is drawn over them, not enough to draw blood.
“Yes?” Obai raises an eyebrow.
“Yes, master.” The word stings at Inigo’s tongue.
“I do hate to mark you like this.” Like a flash, Obai reaches out, grabbing Inigo by the hand and tugging him forwards.
Inigo has to grab the table with the other hand to remain steady.
Obai holds Inigo in a gentle grip, but Inigo doesn’t dare pull away. “I expect absolute loyalty from you.” His eyes meet Inigo’s. “Lest I throw you back in that cell to rot away, hm?”
Obai lets go of Inigo’s hand, letting the boy lean back again.
“Hm.” Obai lifts up his cup and sips it quietly.
Inigo lets himself breathe, rubbing his hands together under the table. No, he has to put up with this. He can’t let Obai get his hands on any of the younger slaves or any of his friends. Obai’s threats don’t go unfulfilled - something he and a few others had to learn the hard way when they first arrived.
Obai places his cup back onto the table, now empty.
Inigo watches his every movement, his shoulder’s stiffening when Obai looks towards him again.
A moment passes and Obai sighs.
“You still have a lot to learn, it seems.” He grins at Inigo. “Sit properly and keep your head down.”
Inigo quietly adjusts his position, happy to avoid Obai’s eyes.
“Hm.” Obai pushes his cup forwards. “Again.”
Lifting his head slightly, Inigo reaches over and picks up the teapot again. He tires to ignore Obai’s gaze as he pours the man another cup. The tea’s soft scent is only vaguely calming.
Obai says nothing as Inigo replaces the pot onto the tray. He reaches out to take the cup again once it’s full but doesn’t drink it. He keeps his eyes on Inigo.
Inigo isn’t sure how long they sit here for. It’s another one of Obai’s fun quirks, it seems. He just loves to make other people uncomfortable. Even with his head angled down, Inigo can see the smug smirk on his face that refuses to drop.
Slowly, the man gets to his feet.
Inigo has to actively remind himself to remain still.
Obai walks around the table and towards Inigo, the cup still in his hand and the whip in the other.
“You’ll be waiting on our guests,” Obai finally speaks when he moves behind Inigo and out of sight. His voice lingers there for a moment. “Do not speak to them, understand? You are forbidden, as is everyone else.” Obai sighs slightly. “Of course, if they pursue it, then you will comply.” Something presses into the back of Inigo’s shoulders, causing the boy to flinch slightly.
In one movement, Inigo feels the back of his robe being tugged down a good few inches. Before he can react, a sharp, stinging pain slashes at the bear skin.
Inigo lets out a pained gasp, lurching forward slightly.
“Sit up properly,” Obai’s voice says.
With a deep breath, Inigo doesn’t his best to comply, ignoring the residual burn. Hoshidans are far too adept at causing the most pain with the least damage. Inigo can feel the stinging feeling running down his spine as he moves.
“Mm, better,” Obai says. He circles around, appearing again on Inigo’s left. “Say as little as possible. Direct our guests to the proper staff and move along.” Obai pauses. “Understand?”
Obai grins. “Good.” He turns, facing Inigo. “Stand up.”
With a little difficulty, Inigo gingerly gets to his feet. He’s careful to move around as little as he can, keeping the manacles around his feet hidden from view. Obai hates nothing more than to see them.
“You’re learning.” Obai looks down at Inigo. He holds out the cup towards him. “Drink.”
“…” Inigo hesitates, looking at the cup warily. He’s not sure what Obai is planning, but it can’t be good. His eyes dart up to Obai. But, not doing what the man says will be far worse.
Inigo takes the cup.
“Try not to make a fool of yourself.” Obai turns away.
Carefully and not daring to look away from the back of the man, Inigo raises the cup to his lips, draining the liquid as fast as possible. It’s only slightly warm, tasting vaguely of cherry and lemon. On any other occasion, Inigo would’ve been happy to have it. This time, however, it only increases his anxiety.
Obai turns back to him after a few seconds. “Put it down.”
Inigo turns away from him and towards the table. There are four other cups, all placed evenly around the teapot. Inigo hesitates.
Obai lets out another sigh. “Too slow.”
The whip hits him just above the ankles. With one hand grasping the fabric around Inigo’s waist, Obai brings the manacles into full view as he strikes the skin just above them.
Inigo drops the cup. It clatters down onto the table before rolling onto the floor. A few drops spill onto the delicate floor.
“Oh dear.” Obai keeps a firm grip on Inigo’s robe, even pulling it tighter and closer. “You’re still in need of direction.”
Unable to move, Inigo can only twist his head to Obai, an excuse, a plea, on the tip of his tongue, but it’s silenced in a second.
“Pitiful thing.” The whip cracks.
Chapter 3: Crescendo
It’s only a brief respite. Obai had been forced to leave and greet his guest while Inigo had been taken left in the room with orders to head out when possible.
Inigo lies on the floor. After Obai had left, he’d rolled out into a sprawled position, arms spread out at his sides. He stares up at the ceiling, watching the sunlight roll through the windows. The shadows of the bars draw lines across the room, trapping the animals on the walls in the phantom cages.
Inigo takes long, deep breaths, waiting for the residual aching to pass even slightly. Long, red welts, some deep enough to draw specks of blood, run up his legs and to his knees, they criss-cross up his arms and down his back. A few made their way to his abdomen, knocking the wind out of him and beating out his non-existent appetite. Inigo has to resist to urge to wretch, to gasp for breath or to cry out.
It’s all too familiar. A different enemy, the same result.
Inigo sighs. So much for a whole new world.
“Prince Ryoma.” Obai stands in the doorway, hands clasped and a cordial smile on his face.
“Lord Obai.” Ryoma walks forward, Kagero and Saizo at his sides. He’s only wearing part of his armour, enough to still be acceptable for a social setting, with a dark red kimono on underneath.
“I hope that you arrived with no problems,” Obai says. “My servants will show you to your chambers for the night and we can meet in the atrium hence.”
“You have my thanks,” Ryoma nods. He spots a pair of relatively plainly dressed figures walk towards him. “I’ll be with you in just a moment, then.”
As Ryoma makes his way through Obai’s mansion, Saizo and Kagero almost immediately disappear from sight. Obai’s servants seem unfazed by this, however, and continue to lead Ryoma through the delicate and impeccably clean halls. The entire manor smells of flowers and is filled with expensive decorations that rival those of the royal palace.
Ryoma looks over a few critically as they pass. Huge, jade pots and statues, golden jewellery, plates and lanterns decorate the finely painted walls. It’s as if Obai has stuffed every inch of his home with unnecessary finery. Ryoma has no doubt that this is a reflection of the man’s own insufferable greed.
Ryoma’s room is just as lavishly decorated, with stocked shelves of antiques, golden lined window frames and doorways and walls thick with metallic paint.
“I wonder where all his wealth comes from,” Ryoma speaks aloud once they’re alone.
“His family carried some wealth that he inherited years ago,” Kagero answers, appearing beside him. “But he is not of extensive wealth and has no obvious means to gain it beyond his work at the palace.”
“I doubt the validity of some of these artefacts,” Saizo adds, appearing in a puff of smoke in front of Ryoma. “His staff is especially cautious.” His visible eye darts around a little. “The walls are thin and listening, milord. We must be careful.”
“Of course.” Ryoma nods. “Stay on guard and report anymore anomalies to me.” He turns to the large bag at his side. “I must meet with Lord Obai now. I doubt he’ll notice if one of you is not present.”
Inigo sits in the wings before Obai’s atrium. Here, the walls are fabric with small, adjoining rooms that draw a complicated maze in the centre of Obai’s manor. Inigo sits on a small bench with a few others, holding a covered tray in his hands. He notes that the other slaves here are dressed in the same robe as he is. Everyone carries the same nervous disposition as they’re forced to sit here in the dark. From here, Inigo can hear Obai’s laughter. Even though its barely mid-afternoon, Inigo’s sure that he’s started drinking.
“H-Hey…” A small voice speaks at a hushed whisper.
Inigo turns, spotting a familiar woman standing beside him. She has her own tray that she balances with one hand. Her daughter is nowhere to be seen, but Inigo assumes she and the other children are being kept downstairs for the time being.
“What is it?” Inigo keeps his own voice low.
“Are… you alright?” The woman looks Inigo up and down with a worried expression. “After that man took you off, you were gone for a while…” She frowns. “I know there’s not much that I could do but…”
“Ah.” Inigo smiles. “I’ll be fine, don’t worry about me, okay?”
“He calls you away so often…” She mutters. “I… I don’t know what he’s doing but-”
“Hey.” Inigo shifts his tray onto one hand and reaches out to touch her gently on the shoulder. “It’s all going to be alright, okay? Just focus on keeping you and little Maya safe, alright?”
“…Alright.” She nods. “Just… you too, okay?” She looks up at him with bleary eyes. “Be careful.”
Inigo sends prayer of thanks to Naga as Obai’s weird banquet goes underway without an issue. The man is renowned for having long drinking parties that can last from midday until the next morning. It seems for this guest he’s toned it down just a little bit. But, the alcohol and platters of food that are ferried into the room shine with the mountains of gold they cost to make. Inigo spots too many rare ingredients, specialised concoctions and, once evening is properly upon them, shining gifts being passed between the attendees.
It’s also here, as Inigo quietly drops off and collects plates, cups and bowls that he finally gets to see this esteemed guest that had Obai so worked up.
Inigo should probably recognise the man but his limited time in Hoshido leaves him pulling a blank. He’s tall, with long, brown hair and eyes. He treats Obai with courtesy, drinks very little, and speaks only formally to the other guests. As the party devolves into the stench of sake and beer, the guest remains upright and focused.
His aura is warm and serene, Inigo notes. Despite its quiet nature, the man’s spirit is bright and defined. It washes right through the darker muck like the beacon of a lighthouse.
Whenever Inigo grows close, he also senses, just faintly, two more presences hidden near the man. They’re attentive and on alert. Inigo feels their invisible gazes on him for a spit second before moving on.
It’s… strange, to say the least. But Inigo can’t linger on that for now.
He continues to watch the strange guest throughout the meal. He comes up with a few clues.
Firstly, he’s somehow of a higher rank than Obai. Obai continues to flatter and tend to the guest at every opportunity, even through his drunken haze.
Secondly, he’s a warrior of some kind and is strong enough to have a pair of ninja bodyguards following him around. He keeps a sheathed sword at his side at all times, the sheath itself as impeccable as the visible handle of the blade. It’s a distinctly Hoshidan-style blade, but Inigo gets a sense that there’s something more then meets the eye here.
And, finally, he discerns the man’s strong morality. He flares ever so slightly when Obai snaps at a servant or makes an aside comment about women or the lower classes. Yet, he still feels kind and respectful. Inigo practically bathes in the warmth of his aura whenever he gets a free second. It pervades even the walls but is muffled by the density of people and can’t reach further into the manor.
After dinner, Inigo feels the guest leave with a few of Obai’s friends, heading upstairs towards the guest rooms. The two ninja linger a little longer before going too.
In that early morning, Inigo and all the other slaves are left to clean up the mess.
“Obai must buy a thousand cups a month to keep up with all this.” A middle-aged man uses his gloved hands to scoop porcelain shards into a hemp bag. “Guess he’s got the money to burn.”
“Almost literally.” Inigo hums in agreement, collecting a stack of silver dishes into his arms. “And yet, he’s not bothered to pay for labour.”
The man laughs but, at the look of a guard, lets it out as a cough. “Fairly right, kid.”
Inigo smirks. He starts out of the room and towards the room for dishwashing just a few doors down. There, he spots Maya’s mother and a few other women rubbing soap and water into the silverware. Gently, Inigo places the stack on the ground beside a few others and makes to leave. Stepping outside, though, he almost walks right into the on-duty guard. The man gives him a harsh look but continues on with a huff.
Inigo frowns, looking after him. But, then he gets an idea.
“Hey.” Inigo heads back into the atrium. He approaches the guy with the hemp bag with a grin.
“Hey?” The man looks up at him. “Whats up, kid?”
“The guard just left, hm?” Inigo asks. “Did he say anything?”
“Nothin’.” The man shakes his head.
“Great.” Inigo smirks. “I’m stepping out for a bit, don’t give me away, okay?”
“Wait- What?” The man balks as Inigo starts to walk away. “Hey, kid! You’re gonna get caught!”
Inigo gives him a reassuring wave as he disappears through the sheer fabric and heads out into the corridor beyond.
The manor is alive with pulsing, multicoloured energy. It shines bright from the room behind Inigo, but also the corridors around him and above.
With a deep breath, Inigo closes his eyes. He needs to focus.
It’s not hard to spot the guest’s shining aura but, more importantly, he starts to see the muddy outlines of the guards patrolling the halls. So, Inigo stands there for a minute, watching each of them pass around him. Mentally, he makes note of each stairway, each doorway he can thing of…
Inigo grins. It’s now or never.
Ryoma walks through the upper floor of Obai’s manor. He passes an armed guard, the silver and iron armour looks impressive with its gold embellishments, but Ryoma doubts it will hold up in a fight. But, of course, these guards are only for show. Saizo and Kagero didn’t take long to find the hired mercenaries that linger too close to the mansion. Those are Obai’s true line of defence. But, why he would go to such an extent is still unknown to Ryoma, though he does have a few ideas.
Regardless, he doesn't have to figure it all out right this second. He’s scheduled to remain at Obai’s for a few more days and that’s plenty more time than a short afternoon. After all, it’s unlikely that a lead would so easily present itself-
Ryoma’s thoughts are cut off. Ahead of him, he spots a robed figure dressed the same as Obai’s servants. A young man who’s glancing out of a large, round window. The bright white moonlight cuts through the otherwise golden shine of the candlelight that illuminates most of the manor.
As Ryoma stops, the servant looks over at him. Ryoma’s first thought is about how young he looks and then it’s about the startling red in his eyes.
Before Ryoma can say anything, the boy steps forward. He looks a little out of breath and his eyes dart to the sides nervously.
“Can I help you?” Ryoma asks, watching the boy slowly approach.
He pauses in his steps for just a moment. Then, “I was hoping you could.” The boy speaks Hoshidan, thank goodness, but with an unfamiliar accent. He looks up at Ryoma, the man being a good head or so taller than him. “I need your help.” Without another word, he reaches down to his robes and pulls it up, just enough to reveal the shining metal underneath.
Ryoma tenses. It’s just like the rumours said.
“There are so many of us,” The boy speaks in a whisper. “We can’t do a thing. We were taken from a travelling caravan- and it’s not just us.”
Ryoma grimaces. He looks at the boy, at the welling anxiety in his eyes.
“I- I’m not supposed to talk to anyone,” he says. “B-But- You seemed like you could help.”
“…” Ryoma pauses. “Kagero.”
The ninja appears at his side.
The boy doesn’t look surprised.
“Where?” Ryoma asks.
“Downstairs.” He quickly answers. “I’ll be going that way soon.”
“Good.” Ryoma looks to Kagero. “Stay with him and report back to me.”
Kagero nods and, silently, disappears once again.
“What’s your name?” Ryoma asks.
“…” The boy hesitates for a second. “Inigo,” He finally says.
Ryoma nods. Definitely not a Hoshidan, then. “I promise, once I look into this, I will help you, Inigo.”
Inigo’s face splits into a relieved grin. “Thank you.” He drops the grip on his robe. “I need to get going.”
“Of course,” Ryoma says. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to speak again soon.”
Inigo is acutely aware of Kagero’s presence following him back downstairs and towards the atrium. Inigo is careful to avoid the paths of the guards as he goes, stopping or taking detours every now and then.
“…Um.” Just a few doors down from the atrium, Inigo stops. “Miss Kagero, was it?”
Almost inaudibly, a voice replies. “Yes.”
“Those two with you,” Inigo says. “What were their names?” At the silence, he quickly adds, “Just so I know how to address them- You don’t have to say.”
“…My partner is Saizo,” Kagero quietly answers. “My master is Lord Ryoma. That is all you need to know.”
Inigo smiles. “Thank you.”
When he reenters the atrium, most of the mess has already been cleaned up. He gets a few strange looks from the other slaves but the new guard on duty doesn’t even look his way.
Inigo feels Kagero wander off slightly, circling the room and ducking through the adjacent doors.
“Well, I’ll be damned.” Inigo turns to the old man as he addresses him. “You’re a funny one, kid.”
“Thanks for keeping it down.” Inigo grins at him. “Sorry to leave you guys with all the work.”
“Eh, it’s no worse than usual.” The man shrugs. “Here.” He passes Inigo a stack of golden goblets. “Look busy.”
Inigo gives him one more grin before heading back out of the room and towards the dishwashers.
Maya’s mother looks a little surprised to see him, but says nothing.
It’s only at around dawn that the atrium is clean enough for them to move on.
With Kagero in his wake, Inigo is ferried with everyone else back to the hidden floor beneath the mansion.
Kagero’s energy grows tense and alert once they start descending.
Once back in his cell, Inigo lingers by the doorway. The guard stays for a moment before starting his march up and down the long corridor.
Kagero’s voice returns to him in that moment.
“I am going.”
“Good luck,” Inigo whispers. “Be careful.”
Kagero disappears up the corridor and out of sight. Inigo wishes he could have watched her longer, but ninjas’ energies are, expectedly, much harder to track.
So, in the damp dimness, Inigo settles in for a short rest. Undoubtedly he and the others will be roused in just a few hours and he’d rather make the best of what time he has.
He just hopes this Ryoma can actually help him out.
“It’s worse than we thought.” Kagero enters Ryoma’s chambers silently. The two men already inside are wide awake and pouring over handwritten documents on a small table.
“What did you find?” Saizo asks, watching Kagero approach.
“He was right,” Kagero says. “There’s a hidden stairwell to a large basement, within which is a long corridor of cells. Almost everyone employed by Obai is kept there.” She frowns, taking a seat beside them. “I see signs of reckless abuse too. Torture chambers, isolation chambers and a constant guard.”
“Can you estimate how many?” Ryoma asks.
“Over a hundred,” Kagero says. “Women and children among them.”
“Hm.” Ryoma nods. “I can’t allow Obai to continue any longer. I’ll send word to the capital for reinforcements.”
“We’re acting so quickly?” Saizo asks.
“This only confirms what we’ve suspected thus far,” Ryoma says. “We can arrest him for this and, hopefully, have him confess further crimes. An investigation of his home should reveal plenty.”
“Very well.” Saizo nods.
“Is that all, Kagero?” Ryoma asks.
“Yes.” Kagero nods. Then, “Actually, there’s one more thing.”
“Yes?” Ryoma asks.
“The boy, Inigo,” Kagero says. “He asked for your names.” She looks between Saizo and Ryoma. “It shows he’s unfamiliar with the royal family and is certainly not of Hoshidan birth.”
“The crime is higher if he is wrongfully detaining foreigners,” Ryoma concludes. “Thank you, Kagero. Did you answer his question?”
“Yes, milord,” Kagero nods. “I identified you as Lord Ryoma.”
“Thank you.” Ryoma smiles. “Both of you, investigate the grounds of the manor as best as you can. Remain undetected.” He looks between them. “I’ll have a letter sent shortly.”
“Yes, milord.” Saizo and Kagero vanish in twin plumes of smoke, leaving Ryoma alone.
The prince lets out a sigh, retrieving a pen and paper from the table in front of him. The reports of Obai’s strange behaviour and increased wealth stare up at him as he begins in draft. Hopefully the man won’t be troubled by an outgoing letter.
Chapter 4: Sforzando
Inigo wakes up to the sound of metal hitting metal.
He jolts awake, pushing himself off of the dirtied floor to look for the source of the noise.
“Get up!” A guard bangs at the bars with his sheathed sword. “You’ve got work to do!” Once he’s satisfied, he starts down the corridor, bothering the other cells as he goes.
“Ugh.” Inigo sits up, cradling his head. He’s tired and vaguely dizzy.
“More work with this esteemed guest of Shitty Obai’s.” An older man lets out a scoff. “Fuck.”
“At least he’s not bothering us as much,” A woman says. “Don’t complain or else he’ll hear ya.”
“Don’t tell me what to do, wench!” The man lets out a loud shout. “Fuck you all!”
Startled, most of the people in the cell reel backwards. Inigo, struck with a stark familiarity, jumps to his feet. “Hey!”
“Fuck off, kid.” The man spits. He reaches out and grabs the woman by the arm.
“Brute!” The woman kicks at his legs.
“Shut up!” The man growls. He raises her up slightly, moving to throw her to the ground.
Inigo jumps forward, grabbing the woman around the waist as he lands a kick at the back of the man’s leg.
“Shit!” He crumples over.
“Are you okay?” Inigo quickly lets the woman go.
She backs up right away, giving the man a hateful but cautious look. “Whatever,” She says.
“Oi!” The guard is back and knocking against the bars. “What’s going on in here!?”
“This brat attacked me!” The crouching man point a finger at Inigo. “Thinks he can get away with shit because Obai likes him best!”
“That’s not true!” Inigo quickly says.
“Shut up!” Te guard hits the bars. His eyes focus in on Inigo, narrowing. “Both of you, out.”
“What!?” The man scowls.
“Out!” The guard turns on him. “Or I’ll get in there and drag you!”
The guard quickly unlocks the door with a large, rusted key. The door swings open and he steps inside, sword now drawn. He looks at Inigo. “Get out. And wait there.”
Inigo only nods, stepping around the man as he passes. As Inigo walks out into the corridor, he sees the curious eyes coming from the other cells looking right at him.
Behind him, Inigo turns to see the guard roughly grabbing the man. There’s not much of a fight. The man kicks at the guard, attempting to grab his sword in the scuffle, but the blade just ends up cutting through his hands.
Inigo has to stop himself from retching as a few of the man’s fingers fall to the ground.
“Aaagh!” The man collapses to the floor, clutching his heavily bleeding hand. “You fucker!”
The guard calmly sheathes his sword, unperturbed by the blood on his face, and grabs the man by the collar.
Inigo sits in a small room. It’s dark, with only a single round window on the wall opposite the door. The floor is hard wood and the ceiling comes to a point above him. He’d been led in here after the guard has identified him as ‘Lord Obai’s favourite’ which, really, Inigo would disagree with.
But, with that, Inigo is pretty sure what to expect. No doubt he’ll be left here for too long in wait until Obai decides he’ll spare him some time.
Inigo sighs. He wonders what those two ninja are up to.
“What?” Ryoma turns away from his desk. “Where was he taken?”
“A room on the upper floor,” Kagero says. “A message was sent to Lord Obai, but he didn’t seem rushed to answer it.”
“…I see.” Ryoma frowns. “Keep an eye on him until-”
“Milord.” Saizo pushes the door open and quickly enters. He has a sealed letter in his hands. “We have word back from the capital.” He walks forward and offers the letter to Ryoma.
“That was fast.” Ryoma accepts the letter, quickly breaking the seal and opening it. “…” His eyes scan the page. “I see.” He nods. “A small garrison was placed on the road to the capital. They must have gotten my letter and sent word back from there.” He continues reading. “And they’re sending reinforcements at noon.” He glances out the window. “How much time do we have?”
“Just under three hours,” Saizo answers. “What are your orders?”
Ryoma hesitates. “The mercenaries around the manor, are they still there?”
“Yes,” Kagero answers. “They have not moved since we arrived.”
“Take care of them.” Ryoma’s eyes narrow. “Don’t let Obai or anyone else find out. Our forces will move in unopposed.”
“Yes, milord.” The pair bow.
“Go now,” Ryoma says. “We just need to hold out a little longer.”
It takes two hours. Two hours of waiting and wondering.
Inigo sits up as the door suddenly clicks unlocked and, a moment later, is forcefully slid open.
Obai grins at Inigo. “You’ve been naughty.”
Inigo winces. “I’m-”
“Shush.” Obai shakes his head. He takes a step inside and the door closes behind him. He has something wrapped in fabric held in his hand. Inigo’s stomach drops at the sight of it. “And after I allowed you all to sleep longer than usual this morning,” Obai walks forward. “Is this how I should be thanked?” A pause. “That was a question.”
“No, master,” Inigo quickly says. “I’m sorry.”
“Oh, but I don’t think you are,” Obai says. He starts unwrapping the fabric. “Don’t move, now.”
On the other side of the manor, in the thick forests of bright green trees and bubbling streams, Kagero and Saizo cut easily through the patrols of armed sell-swords. Blood pools in the soil and sprays against the trees. Bodies pile amongst the rocks and creek-beds.
“I’ve counted all of them,” Kagero says. She flicks blood from her shuriken, the drops landing upon a small bushel of wildflowers.
“We must return to Lord Ryoma, then,” Saizo says. He looks around once more, frowning.
“What is it?” Kagero asks.
“I saw no campsite or homestay,” He says. “They were not stationed at the castle.”
“Further out, then?” Kagero asks. “I can look. You can report to Lord Ryoma.”
“…Alright.” Saizo nods. “Beware, there may be a discrepant to our counting, stay alert.”
Kagero nods, watching Saizo dart back off into the forest. Once he’s gone, she turns on her heels are starts off into the other direction.
The forest is brightly lit. The sun is strong enough to pierce through the tissue-thin leaves of the trees. Kagero follows the path of a long stream that the mercenaries were favouring. And, sure enough, she eventually comes across makeshift tents, crates of supplies and snuffed out fires.
And, not a few feet ahead, she finally comes across a huge, decrepit fortress of white stone. Part of it has been fortified with scrap wood, certainly the mercenaries’ work. More tents are scattered at the foot of the fort but there’s only an eerie silence over the camp.
Of course, Kagero isn’t fooled. No sane man would leave a camp like this unattended, even on private land.
Kagero keeps to the shadows, slowly slinking forwards.
“I told you.” Suddenly, a man stumbles out of under the fort. They have a glass bottle in hand, the contents half-gone. “There’s no issue!” He slurs on his words as he turns back into the fort. “See?”
“See what?” Another man, this time actually sober, follows him out.
Kagero sees the swords at each of the mens’ sides and the basic armour they wear. She pulls out a dagger and holds it ready in her hand.
“I’ll tell the boss that you were drinking,” The sober man says. “Maybe he’ll cut off your hand for it.”
“He wouldn’t do that!” The man laughs. “It’s fine, we’re under the patronage of the great Lord Obai, we’re gonna be rich and do no work for it!”
“If you say so.” The other man turns away. “You’re the one who’ll get in trouble.”
Kagero’s dagger flies through the air. It hits the drunk man in the back of the neck, right into a his spine. He spasms for a second, dropping the bottle and smashing it onto the ground, before his legs buckles.
“Woah!” The other man jumps in surprise. “Hey!” He grimaces at the fallen man. “Really?” When there’s no response, he just sighs. “What a waste.” He starts forward, frowning at the broken bottle.
Kagero pulls out another dagger.
“…What?” The man’s eyes widen at the sight of blood under his companion. “Shit-”
The dagger hits him in the throat, causing a flood of blood to rush out of the gash and down his front.
Kagero steps out of the bushes and walks towards the man. He looks up at her pleadingly, but his life is already forfeit.
The ninja says nothing as she wrenches the dagger free from the fallen man. She reaches out to the one left choking and, wordlessly, yanks the blue free.
He coughs, blood spewing past his lips, for a silent moment, before he falls forward, dead.
Kagero starts back to the manor. She walks freely past the trees, content that she’s the only one around. She checks her clothes for blood and is content to find none. It won’t do for her to be unbecoming beside her liege. As she passes through a clearing, Kagero glances up at the sky, noting that it’s still a few minutes to noon.
Then, another thought comes to her.
Kagero stops walking. For some reason, she can’t think of anything but that slave boy. She can’t think of anything but stinging pain, of Lord Obai’s face, and of blood pouring over wooden floorboards.
Before she can register any of those thoughts, Kagero breaks into a run. She dodges over and around the gnarled roots across the forest floor, diverting her path slightly as she runs towards the back-end of Obai’s manor.
“Please!” Inigo lets out a gasping breath. His lungs sear with each movement, accompanied by a sickly warmth that drenches his side. One hand is pressed into the wound, but it’s not doing much to stop the worrying blood flow. His robe is stained almost entirely red. It’s hardly a functioning garment anymore, the iron whip having cut straight through the fabric. Most of it hangs from Inigo’s shoulder, pooling on the ground beneath him.
The pink-haired, bright red-eyed boy lies on the wooden ground, a man in a golden outfit that’s slowly splattering with blood stands over him.
There’s no sound from outside the small room, just an oppressive silence that swallows Inigo’s words.
Inigo looks up Lord Obai pleadingly, the sound of his pounding heartbeat almost deafening. “Please…” He chokes, lowering his head before him. “I can’t-”
Inigo feels burning tears well up in his eyes and he lets out a strangled sob. The pain is quickly turning to numbness and his breaths are becoming shorter and harsher.
He wonders what Lord Ryoma is doing.
He wonders about his two ninjas.
He wonders about the red-haired Saizo.
He wonders about the stoic Kagero…
He reaches out to them.
Kagero throws a shuriken at the guard before he can even mutter a word. He falls to the ground with a loud clattering, but Kagero can’t bring herself to mind.
An incomparable panic fills her head, overcoming every other instinct. Why does she feel this way?
Kagero stares at the door in front of her. Whatever it is, the answer is right behind this door.
With a heaving push, the door slides open.
Kagero sees Inigo, surround by blood and shredded cloth.
Kagero sees Obai, arm raised and ready to strike.
Kagero sees red.
Chapter 5: Harmony
Inigo wakes up to white light. It takes him a moment to recognise it but, when he does, it comes with a start.
Jolting upwards, Inigo’s eyes fly open. As he expected, he’s greeted by the sight of Ryoma and Kagero lingering just beside him. Blinking, Inigo quickly discerns his surroundings. He’s in a bed of white sheets, sunlight pouring in through large windows and over many other beds, both filled and empty, as well as the various medical staff wandering between them.
Slowly, Inigo looks at the pair beside him.
“Are you alright?” Ryoma asks. He looks concerned and more than a little surprised, but that fades quickly.
“What…” Inigo looks around, head scrambling with thoughts. “What happened?”
“Kagero found you with Lord Obai,” Ryoma gestures to the woman. “Just as a company from the Hoshidan army arrived from my call.” He smiles. “I’m not surprised that your memory’s a little blurry, Kagero brought you here in quite the state.”
Inigo turns to the woman. She frowns and turns away. “Thank you,” He says.
“Don’t worry about it,” Kagero says. She doesn’t look at him.
“You… said the army’s here?” Inigo looks back at Ryoma.
“Lord Obai has been arrested for quite an extensive list of crimes,” Ryoma says. “His manor has been seized while we treat and relocate his staff.”
“Everyone’s okay?” Inigo feels relief well up in his chest.
“As well as they can be,” Ryoma says. “I have doctors looking over any sick or injured.” He frowns. “A few will suffer permanent effects, I’m afraid, but we’ll do our best to help them.”
Inigo lets out a breath. “Thank you, truly.”
“Prince Ryoma!” An armed solider jogs into the room. They walk towards Ryoma and give him a short bow.
“Yes?” Ryoma turns to him.
“Lord Obai has arrived at the capital,” He reports. “The Queen sends this in reply.” He passes a sealed letter to Ryoma before heading back out of the room.
“You have my thanks,” Ryoma says, waving the man away.
Inigo watches on with curiosity as Ryoma breaks the wax and unfurls the letter. He reads it for a few moments before smiling. “She says she’s thankful to you.” He looks at Inigo.
“Me?” Inigo stares. “The Queen?” Then, “…That solider called you- Prince Ryoma?”
Ryoma smiles humorously. “You heard correctly.”
Inigo feels his cheeks heat up. “I- Oh Gods-” He presses his cheeks into his hands. “Milord, I-”
“Please, do not fret,” Ryoma quickly says. “If I had cared about how you addressed me, I would have revealed myself sooner.”
“A-Ah…” Inigo’s face refuses to shed its redness. “Right.”
“I am somewhat in your debt,” Ryoma says, passing the letter to Kagero. “I will arrange transport for you- to wherever you need to go, as well as a small compensation.”
“Really?” Inigo blinks. “Ah, well, I’m not sure that’s necessary.” He shakes his head. “I was- I was travelling with two of my friends, actually.” He looks cautiously up at Ryoma. “I’m not sure where they are now.”
“Where were you headed initially?” Ryoma asks. “Perhaps I could send word to try and track these friends of yours down.”
“Well, we weren’t headed in one place in particular,” Inigo admits. “But, the plan for us ever getting separated was to meet at the Hoshidan capital.”
“I sure that could be easily arranged.” Ryoma smiles. “We’ll be heading back there once everything here is settled.” He glances over at Kagero. “I’d be more than happy to allow you to accompany us and, there, we can aid in reuniting you with your travelling companions.”
Inigo breaks into a wide grin. “Thank you so much, Lord Ryoma.”
“Please,” Ryoma chuckles. “It’s the least I can do.”
Across the kingdom, a pair of mercenaries exchange blows on a Hoshidan training field. White sand and bamboo fences stand in the small courtyard, the high walls of the fortress standing around them.
“Phew.” Owain takes a step back to let out a breath. He holds matching swords in both hands, the curved blades similar to Hoshidan katana but the craftsmanship betrays their Feroxi origins.
“Done already?” Severa stops too, lowering her broader Ylissean sword grasped in both her hands. She lets the point rest on the ground and flicks one of her ponytails out of her face.
“Heh, you haven’t even glimpsed my great power!” Owain smirks at her.
“You can just say if you’re tired.” Severa easily sheathes the sword at her side and starts walking off the field.
“I didn’t say that!” Owain jogs off after her, taking a little longer to stow his blades.
Severa reaches the side of the field, where a shallow wall stands between them and the open passageway into the fortress proper. She grabs her canteen from the floor beside her jacket and takes a drink. She looks over at Owain. “It’s getting to patrol time anyway, don’t be weird about it.”
“And of course your mighty intuition is correct!” Owain grins. “Our demonic contract with the mighty battalion of light is tenuous to rupture lest the clauses be met.”
Severa raises an eyebrow at him. “Just don’t go scaring them off like last time, got it?”
“I would never!” Owain frowns. “Why do you doubt me, Severa of the Blazing Blade? I have kept hold of my aching blood for these months hence!”
“Whatever.” Severa rolls her eyes. She grabs her jacket over her arm. “I gotta go.” She gives him a pointed look. “Keep it together.”
Severa ignores Owain’s too exuberant responses behind her as she walks into the fortress. In the halls, she passes a few Hoshidan soldiers that barely bat an eye as she passes. Finally, after two months, she and Owain aren’t being eyed suspiciously as foreigners and are instead considered their allies. Part of Severa is relieved, but another is annoyed that it took so long.
“Oh, it’s you.” Setsuna sits on a large rock by the fort’s entrance. As Severa walks out of the large gate, she spots the bow-wielding woman looking over at her.
“What?” Severa raises an eyebrow.
“Nothing.” Setsuna shrugs. “Are you ready to go?”
Severa spots a pair of Hoshidan soldiers also waiting nearby. She really doesn’t need all these people around just to circle the fort for a few hours, but it’s Hoshidan protocol. “Sure, whatever.”
Setsuna nods and gets to her feet, patting the dirt from her clothes. Severa knows better than to ask why she’s covered in wet soil and thorns.
Owain lingers on the training field for a little longer, cooling down with a few stretches. While he sits on the ground, finally sheathing his blade, he hears footsteps come up behind him.
“Hello down there.”
Owain turns to look up at Azama peering down at him. “Greetings, my prudent companion! What can I do for you?”
“Hm. Depends.” Azama smirks a little.
“Your machinations are curious to me.” Owain gets to his feet to face the man properly. “Do you perhaps carry with you the secrets to a grand and noble quest? A matter fit only for the great and heroic?”
“Not at all,” Azama hums. “My lady wishes to see you and your friend.”
“Oh?” Owain blinks. “The fleet-footed Severa has already left to do her rounds, I’m afraid she’ll need some measurable tracking down.”
“You’ll do by yourself, then,” Azama decides. He turns away. “Come on.”
Owain follows Azama into the fortress and up a thin flight of stairs. They head into one of the fortress’ high towers, one that Owain already knows to be occupied by the Hoshidan princess.
“Here we go.” Azama pauses at the door. It’s thick wood with a delicately crafted golden knocker. Instead of using it, however, Azama just raps with his knuckles. “Lady Hinoka? I’m back.”
A muffled voice replies, “Come in.”
Azama smirks at Owain, pushing the door open with one hand. “After you.”
Inside, the room is lined in delicately painted walls. Opposite the door, the wall opens up to a large balcony currently half obscured by a paper and glass screen. Princess Hinoka sits in a small chair by a large desk, papers stacks somewhat haphazardly around her. The room is otherwise quite tidy and mostly empty. Owain assumes most of the princess’ possessions are stacked away in the walls or visible cabinets.
“Greets, your ladyship.” Owain enters with a deep bow.
“Miss Severa is out on patrol right now,” Azama says, entering behind Owain.
“Alright, that’s fine.” Hinoka nods. “Thank you, Azama.”
“Of course.” Azama bows shallowly and backs back into the corridor. The coy smile on his lips ozones’t fade as he closes the door in front of him.
“Sorry about him,” Hinoka sighs. She looks over at Owain a little curiously. “Owain, right?”
“Correct, milady.” Owain nods. “Pardon my impudence, perhaps, but may I ascertain to why I’ve been brought here to you?”
Hinoka nods. “I received a letter from my brother, Prince Ryoma, just now.” She holds up a delicate piece of paper in her hands. She hesitates for just a second. “Does the name ‘Inigo’ mean anything to you?”
“Here you go.” Up on his feet, Inigo passes a large bushel of bright green and coloured vegetables to a young woman.
“Thank you!” She grins brightly at him. “This’ll be plenty for tonight.”
“Ah, don’t thank me,” Inigo says. “I’m just the delivery boy. Elis and the others helped pick it all.”
“It’s a relief that all the produce in the gardens isn’t going to waste,” The woman says. “Lord Ryoma has really thought of everything.”
“I suppose so.” Inigo nods. “Well, if that’s everything…”
“It is, thank you.” She grins. “I’ll see you at dinner!”
In the past couple of weeks, Inigo has been busy helping Ryoma and his men manage the great manor of Lord Obai. With hearings and arrests happening almost everyday, the reach of Lord Obai’s influence is being slowly uncovered to worrying extents. Inigo sees the stress on Ryoma’s face and in his bright aura. It’s well disguised, but Inigo is too familiar with it.
Still, the prince had been trying to help Inigo in what free time he could muster. Letters had been sent to the Hoshidan capital and to the nearby cities, but none had bore fruit. A few days prior, Ryoma had told him that messages had been sent to his siblings with details of their current investigation into Obai, but also of Inigo’s pursuit. While Inigo had been flustered by the attention initially, all he could do was thank Ryoma. The victims of Obai have been slowly led out of the castle, taken to their homes or families across the country. Apparently the royal court feels personally responsible for letting Obai operate as he has for so long and are thus putting a fair amount of support into the program.
Still, many are left without places to go. So they remain employed at the manor, helping the army and each other. Inigo, for one, has been flittering around helping with about anything he can manage. Especially now that’s he’s healed enough to run around without supervision, he’ll be damned if he doesn’t lend a hand.
Heading through the manor’s halls, Inigo feels Kagero slowly approaching. He pauses is his steps and waits.
Once she comes into view, he turns to her with a smile. “Good evening.”
“And to you.” Kagero nods.
“…Did you need something?” Inigo asks.
Kagero studies him for a second. “…You’re needed in the medical bay.”
“Oh, alright,” Inigo says. Then, “Why’d they send you to tell me?”
“They didn’t,” Kagero says.
“…” Inigo stares at her. “Uh…”
“Never mind.” She shakes her head. “Get going.” She vanishes in a plume of smoke, leaving Inigo confused in her wake.
“…” Inigo blinks. Ninja really are such curious people. He shrugs. Whatever.
“Try to keep still, alright?” The elderly woman currently in charge of the infirmary has a tight grip on Inigo’s leg.
“Alright-” Inigo lets out a hiss of pain as the woman starts to wrap a damp bandage over his still red and raw wounds. “W-What is that stuff?”
“Disinfectant,” She says. “Unless you want to finish with a bum leg, you’ll put up with it.” She continues wrapping.
“Do you need that for all of me?” Inigo winces. He thinks of the white bandages over all his other limbs and around his chest.
“Don’t complain.” She fixes him with a stoic look. “I’ve seen men with lesser wounds die from preventable infections because they wouldn’t sit damn still.” She looks back to her work. “You’re a soldier, aren’t you? Stick through it.”
“…” Inigo hesitates. “How’d you know I was a soldier?”
“It’s all in your body,” She says. “You got the muscles and build for it. Not the same as most soldiers I’ve seen, but close enough.” Her eyes glance back up at him. “And I’ve seen plenty of soldiers, boy.”
“I can imagine.”
It takes just under an hour to all of Inigo’s bandages to be replaced and redressed. By the end of it, his body stings and aches all over, but the older woman seems content by it. Hopefully it’ll be worth the embarrassment of stripping down, Inigo thinks.
Just as Inigo is shrugging his light robe back on, he hears a knocking at the door.
“Come in!” The woman calls out, helping tie the knot at Inigo’s back. “There.”
“Thanks.” Inigo nods and looks over the door as it opens.
“I hope I’m not interrupting.” Ryoma carefully pushes the door open.
“Lord Ryoma, of course not.” The woman bows and, after a moment, Inigo does the same. It’s hard not to be distracted by the man’s appearance, honestly. He’s dressed in his full armour, all bright reds and sharp edges. It’s large and intimidating and reminds Inigo too much of spiny Plegian armour.
“Inigo,” Ryoma says.
Inigo looks up at him. “Yes?”
“I’ve received a letter from my sister, Princess Hinoka.” He smiles genuinely. “I believe we’ve found your friends.”
Three days later, Inigo sits nervously on the front steps of Lord Obai’s manor. He’s aware of Saizo lingering in the shadows but tries to pay him no mind. The sun sits high in the sky above them, showing the scene in the usual, white Hoshidan light. Inigo stares off into the horizon, down the long white road that leads right up to the manor. Any minute now…
Suddenly, Inigo feels a bright and familiar warmth run through him. Seconds later, he sees movement in the distance. He stumbles slightly as he gets to his feet, smile splitting wide. Off to the side, Saizo also moves, stepping slowly into view. He’s cautious, Inigo can feel, but no more than usual. No, if anything, he’s curious.
It takes another minute or so, but soon enough the small squadron of soldiers comes up to the front of the manor. While the formation of two dozen or so infantry soldiers come to a stop, Inigo hears the loud flapping of wings.
A soft but fiery aura suddenly engulfs him. It’s strong and almost stunning in its impact. Inigo can’t help but stumble back a little as, with a gust of wind and stray feathers, a mounted pegasus lands on the road in front of him.
The woman on the back of the mount stands to attention. A large naginata is visible on her back and the bright red of her hair contrasts sharply with the perfect white of her pegasus.
“Lady Hinoka.” Saizo steps past Inigo and bows in greeting.
“Saizo.” Hinoka easily dismounts, pulling her pegasus’ reigns forward with her. Her eyes slide over to Inigo curiously.
“Milady.” He greets her with a bow.
“You’re Inigo, I assume,” She says.
“That’s right.” Inigo straightens up and smiles at her. “Perhaps-”
“Inigo!” A sharp, bright voice cuts through Inigo’s thoughts faster than he can make them. Inigo’s head snaps over to the side as a small group comes up behind the lines of infantry. Four of them total, Inigo doesn’t recognise the bored woman or the curious monk, but he could recognise the flashes of gold and red with his eyes closed.
Owain is running towards him at full speed. His arms are out in front of him and Inigo barely has time to brace himself before he collides.
“Dear cousin!” Owain slips into speaking Ylissean. “You’re really here! You’re okay!”
“What’d you expect?” Inigo returns in kind. He wraps his arms around Owain. “Gods, it’s good to see you again.”
“You guys are embarrassing,” Severa says in Hoshidan.
“Sorry, sorry,” Owain peels himself off of Inigo. He looks over at Hinoka with a sheepish smiles. “My apologies, Lady Hinoka!”
“Uh, don’t worry doubt it.” She waves it off, turning back to Saizo. “Where is my brother?”
“I will escort you to him,” Saizo says.
“Setsuna, Azama!” Hinoka glances behind her. “Come with me!” She glances at Owain and Severa. “Do as you like for now.” She looks at Inigo. “You look like you have plenty to catch up on.” She starts to walk away, Saizo leading her away.
“Thank you!” Inigo calls after her, almost strangled.
She pauses, glances back at him. “You don’t have to thank me. I didn’t do anything.”
Inigo still smiles at her. “Still. Thank you.”
“Holy shit, Inigo.” Severa sits beside Inigo on the small garden bench. They all look out onto a large peach tree or something, the garden quiet around them. Severa has a tight, almost painful grip on Inigo’s arm.
“No kidding,” Inigo breathes. “Well- At least it’s all over now, right?” He tries for a smile.
“You’re too relaxed about this.” Severa scowls. “Fuck!” She kicks at the ground, a poor pebble sailing away. “Where is the bastard? I’ll cut him up!”
“That’s not necessary!” Inigo quickly says. “And impossible. He was taken to the capital to be charged.”
“That’s not good enough.” Severa growls. “Since Lucina’s not here, I’ll have to cut him up for her! Maybe I’ll tear off his skin and pull out his eyes! I’ll cut off his hands for daring to touch you!”
Inigo can’t help but blush loudly at that. “T-That’s-” He shakes his head. “It’s fine! Really!”
“I think perhaps undermining the Hoshidan legal system will only lead to further despair, dear Severa,” Owain says. “Enough has been seen of his dastardly crimes- This kingdom is not beyond the death penalty.”
“Good!” Severa spits. “Or I’ll do it myself!” She angrily crosses her arms, glaring down at the ground.
Even with her violent tendencies, Inigo can’t help but smile. He reaches out and rests an arm on her shoulder. “Thanks for the sentiment anyway, Severa.”
“Pfft. Whatever.” She doesn’t move away from the touch.
On Inigo’s other side, Owain drapes his arm around his cousin’s shoulder. “Otherwise, you’ve been associating strongly with the Hoshidan prince, have you not?”
“Oh, Lord Ryoma?” Inigo glances over at him. “I didn’t know who he was at first, but yeah, I suppose we’ve been getting along.”
“Rubbing elbows, hm?” Owain grins. “And what is our plan from now on?”
“We only took work with Princess Hinoka because it payed well and kept up near the road to the capital,” Severa says. “Guess there’s no use for it now.”
“You’re going to quit?” Inigo asks.
“We still have a job to do, right?” Severa says. “Find a dragon god and convince him to help us out. Gods, we’ve really strayed from the path.”
“We’ll still get there.” Owain leans over to pat her on the back. “Perhaps our new acquaintances could provide us some aid in that regard.”
“Like what?” Severa raises an eyebrow.
“We can’t exactly ask them for directions.” Inigo frowns. “What’re you thinking of?”
“Perhaps an aid for travelling,” Owain says. “Beasts to ride us over the horizon! Sustenance to hold us through the passing days and nights!”
“Rations would be good,” Inigo says. “Think they’d actually spare us some horses?”
“It’s not like we’ll have much luck making it anywhere just on foot,” Severa frowns. “This close to the capital, maybe, but if we try to head towards Nohr then it’ll get dangerous.”
“I still have all my things from when we were separated,” Inigo says. “But that’s just a couple days of rations along with my other stuff.”
“Yeah, it’d be preferable if you didn’t lose Falchion this early in.” Severa scoffs.
“Don’t even joke about that.” Inigo winces. “This whole time I was sure that he’d sold it off along with everything else- then we’d have to go find it.”
“Ugh.” Severa scowls. “The only good thing he managed to do was be an insufferable hoarder.”
“When… should we leave?” Inigo asks.
“Sooner rather than later,” Severa decides. “We’ve already wasted so much time.”
“Naga did say that his mission could take years,” Owain frowns. “And it’s only been a few months.”
“Well, the shorter the better,” Severa says. “We’re only here so we can get home. Let’s not forget that.”
It was abrupt and, Inigo could feel, surprising to everyone around them, but it had to be done.
The three Ylisseans left Lord Obai’s mansion the day after being reunited. Ryoma and Hinoka had been sad to see them go, but they were also understanding.
Inigo had taken time to say farewell to Kagero and Saizo, the two ninjas doing their best to remain impartial. Inigo had smiled as he said goodbye anyway.
The men and women of the manor itself had been harder to leave. Inigo had comforted more than a few of them, promising to seek them out if he ever returned. He knew that they would be okay, that they would persevere through it all.
At dawn, the three left on a small cart pulled by two sturdy horses. They weren’t meant for speed, but for endurance. The thickly muscled beasts were gently giants, carefully leading them away from the manor once the time came.
Sitting at the back of the cart, Inigo waved goodbye to the figures who came to see them off. He felt Kagero near the entranceway and saw Hinoka’s two retainers lingering nearby. And, finally, he watched as the manor he’d been trapped in for so long finally disappeared from sight.
“Feeling okay?” Mere minutes in, Owain takes a seat beside Inigo.
“…Yeah, I think so.” Inigo smiles. He tugs at his familiar clothes. It was a relief to be out of his lighter Hoshidan wear and back in his things from home. While they may be worn and ageing now, they’re familiar and irreplaceable. They are, however, tight against his injured skin and rough bandages. Inigo hopes the discomfort will fade after not too long.
Owain, too, is in his Feroxi swordsman outfit. Luckily, it was close enough to Hoshidan styles that he’s been able to wear it without issue. Still, Inigo spots a few adjustments made to it.
“What’s that?” He points to a large bag newly tied to Owain’s waist.
“Ah, so your blessed eyes have finally revealed my hidden intentions.” Owain smirks. He reaches down and unclasps the bag, pulling from it a thick, red book.
“…Fire spells?” Inigo raises an eyebrow. “I thought Aunt Lissa gave up teaching you magic?”
“A new era awaits us, cousin,” Owain says, shaking his head. “I shall broaden by horizons and further my quest of greatness!”
“Try not to cause a forest fire, how about?” Inigo smiles. “You know, I could probably give you a few tips if you wanted.”
“I haven’t seen you cast a single spell in the last two years,” Owain deadpans.
“Hey, being out of practice is better than never being in practice at all,” Inigo says. “It’s not my fault that spell books became hard to come by.”
“Boys, I am begging you,” Severa’s voice comes from the front of the cart. “Don’t you dare burn up this cart or I will burn up you, got it!?”
“Yes ma’am!” Owain sits up straight.
“We promise to be careful, Severa,” Inigo says. “No magic near the cart.”
“Hmph.” Severa sighs. “There better not be.”
“Fire may supposedly be the easiest spell, but it’s far from the safest,” Inigo says. “Maybe put that away for now.”
Owain frowns. “Fine.” He slips it back into his bag. “But my quest shall not end here! I shall unlock the world’s secrets eventually!”
“Sure thing.” Inigo chuckles. “But first, we need to unlock the secrets of this mission first, how about that?”
Chapter 6: Refrain
Three years later.
The battlefield is wrought into chaos. For the first time in over a generation, the Nohrian and Hoshidan armies are set to collide full force.
Laslow, Odin and Selena stand behind the Nohrian lines, watching their various lieges rallying the troops.
“This is bad.” At a moment of freedom, Laslow reaches out to grab his cousin. “Right?”
“Right.” Odin grabs him right back, hand squeezing down on his arm.
“We’re we supposed to stop all this from happening?” Laslow asks. “Now, Lady Corrin is who-knows-where, doing who-knows-what!”
“I know!” Odin shakes his head. “We just need to be smart about this. No rushing off and getting killed.”
“I can agree with that.” Laslow nods. “But- What do we do, then?”
“We’ll do as we’re commanded,” Odin says. “We need to wait and see what happens.”
“Right.” Laslow hesitantly lets Odin’s arm go. He can feel shivers running up his spine. War. Again. He shakes his head. “We can’t let this go bad.”
“We’ll go what we can.” Odin turns, spotting Niles waving him over. “I need to go.” He pats Laslow on the arm. “Good tidings to you, cousin. Stay safe.”
“Got it.” Laslow takes in a shaky breath, trying to steel himself. “You too.”
Bare minutes later and Laslow is darting across the field, sword drawn and head low. Once ranks were broken, the lines were lost, and soldiers were left to fend for themselves. Laslow can’t see Prince Xander, nor can he see Peri, or Odin or Selena. A wave of panic rolls through him.
A flash of lightning.
Laslow jumps back, a yelp at the back of his throat. He skids against the grass, throwing his sword in front of him in a ready position. Instead of an enemy mage, however, all he sees is a familiar face.
Prince Ryoma stands tall and proud, energy crackling off of Raijinto drawn in his hands. And he’s staring at Laslow.
His aura feels the same, the brightly shining light almost knocking Laslow back proper. It’s strikingly familiar and strikingly dangerous; right now, Laslow is only concerned with the latter.
Still, Laslow can’t help himself. “Lord Ryoma?” He gasps out, fighting the urge to lower his sword.
Ryoma only narrows his eyes. Oh. Of course. He won’t recognise Laslow, not with his newly updated appearance. He especially won’t care to look long after seeing the Nohrian crest emblazoned on his armour. With a flash of his blade, another bolt of lightning is thrown in Laslow’s direction.
He can’t move. Laslow stares, sword only partially raised to block. His vision is consumed by bright, shining blue and gold.
Laslow’s trance is broken. He realises that he’s fallen to the ground, a great black steed standing over him. Xander looks down at him, wide eyed and worried. “Are you alright!?”
“F-Fine!” Laslow scrambles up. He sees Ryoma, just a little ways away. He looks to have lost his footing for just a moment, but is falling back into a fighting stance.
“Go!” Xander tugs at his reigns, moving to stand in front of Laslow proper. “Find Peri!”
“Got it!” Laslow backs up, not daring to look away from the scene just yet. He sees both divine weapons start to spark again, the conflicting energy that flows off them is almost nauseating to watch. Still, Laslow manages to get far enough away to turn and start running.
He doesn’t look back.
Three months later.
Laslow sits on a plush armchair amongst rows of neatly packed bookshelves. He has a book open on his lap, but he’s not paying it much mind. Instead, he’s watching the figure carefully carousing the shelves with a thoughtful expression. A warm, wine-red energy flows from him, one calm and collected, but volatile and bitterly strong. A stressed tension sits in the man’s shoulders, but, for once, he looks distracted from it.
“Having trouble milord?” Laslow smiles from his seat.
“Somewhat.” Xander sighs, glancing over at his retainer. “The librarian has an outdated organisational style. Leo has complained to me many times, but this is the first time I’ve been so puzzled by it.” He sends another frown at the nearest shelf.
“What’re you looking for?” Easily, Laslow slides his book aside, something on local myths and legends, and gets to his feet.
“…” Xander hesitates, watching Laslow get up. “Quite a while ago… Corrin recommended me a book. A fairytale of some kind.” He turns away, emotions flashing over his face.
It’s Laslow’s turn to frown. “Well- Once you see her again, I’m sure you can consult her about it.” He glances up at the shelves.
“Perhaps,” Xander breathes.
It’s been three months since Lady Corrin practically betrayed both Nohr and Hoshido before vanishing to the wilds. Ever since then, she’s appeared sporadically and disappeared just as fast, throwing both kingdoms into chaos as well as a full-out war with one another. At the heart of it, Laslow knows that the two families only want closure, to regain their missing sibling. But, of course, King Garon’s relentless warmongering isn’t doing anyone much good.
“Tales of Valentia?” Laslow reads off of a blue spine, the letters painted in twisting gold.
“That’s it.” Xander, who had been crouching down, straightens up.
“Here, milord.” Laslow grins, pulling the book free and handing it to his liege. The front cover shows a pair of figures, also painted in gold, but Laslow only catches a glimpse of it.
“Thank you, Laslow.” Xander smiles, just slightly, but genuinely.
“You just needed another pair of eyes,” Laslow says.
“Not just for this.” Xander places the book on a nearby table. “You’ve been… an irreplaceable aide to be these last few months.”
“There’s no need for that, milord,” Laslow says. “It’ say duty to help and, you said it yourself, we’re friends aren’t we?”
Xander chuckles a little. It’s a wonderful sound that Laslow’s been missing lately. “Yes, I suppose so.” He sighs. “I only wish…” He shakes his head. “Never mind.” He reaches out, resting a hand on Laslow’ shoulder. “I say thank you as a friend, then. Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome.” Laslow grins. He leans over slightly, picking the book back up and pushing it into Xander’s chest. “Better get reading, milord.”
Laslow and Xander spent the rest of the evening in the library, Laslow eventually growing bored of his book and wandering the shelves for a while before giving up and returning to his seat. The whole time, Xander sits on a long, comfortable couch and reads in silence. It’s a welcomely domestic sight, and Laslow only wishes that it could last.
The next day, however, the two as well as Peri are set to depart from the castle and journey to Cyrkensia. Hoshidan troops have reportedly been spotted entering Nestran territory, and the king is adamant about destroying any of their advances as quickly as possible. So, even in the neutral territory, the war knows no bounds.
When the dawn comes, Laslow packs up his things. He hesitates in his room but, in the end, he packs everything he has into a few bags and brings them downstairs. If anyone noticed his load was larger than normal, they didn’t say anything.
Atop his horse, Laslow looked back at the castle Krakenburg with apprehension. He could spot the window to his room, wiped clean and empty. He wonders if he’ll ever return.
“L-Lady Camilla?” Across the country, Selena is left staring wide at her liege. “Are you sure?”
“…Yes.” Camilla’s eyes dart over to Selena but just as quickly move back to Corrin. The runaway princess stands before the two of them, expression nervous but hopeful. Prince Takumi and Princess sakura stand behind her, Azura standing at her side.
“Thank you, Camilla.” Corrin smiles.
“How could I ever say no to you, my dear Corrin.” Camilla holds out her arms and, in a split second, Corrin is there, embracing her.
Selena watches this scene with wide eyes, though she’d deny it. A thousand cogs are turning in her head, running through a thousand thoughts. This can’t be happening, can it? But, is this the true route to peace? Selena frowns. Regardless, like this, maybe she can actually start to complete the mission that landed them in this world in the first place.
Selena looks at Camilla. She tries to ignore the pulling of her heartstrings.
“Selena, Beruka, dears.” Then, Camilla is looks at her. “I won’t make this decision for you,” She says. “If you would be happier-”
“No!” Selena can’t help herself. “I mean- Lady Camilla, I’ll always stand by your side.” Selena fumbles. “No matter what.”
“Of course,” Beruka says. She gives Selena a strange expression for a moment before turning away. “We’re not going anywhere.”
“Oh, my gorgeous girls!” Camilla reaches down, scooping them in with an arm each. “Thank you.”
“N-No problem.” Selena feels her cheeks redden at the proximity. She’ll figure this out later. Maybe Corrin really can convince the others to join her cause, now wouldn’t that make things easy.
A quiet voices assures her that it won’t be.
Five days later, Prince Xander and his retainers arrive in Cyrkensia.
“W-What the hell?” Laslow stops with the rest of the party, eyes wide at the trails of smoke rising from the city. The evening darkness shadows the landscape in blues and violets, but the great city is aflame in bright reds.
“Are the Hoshidans already here?” Xander’s brow furrows. He turns to the group behind him. “Move ahead!” The various horses and footmen start forward, moving around the prince and his steed. Laslow and Peri stay behind.
“Why would they attack here?” Laslow asks. “It makes no sense.”
“Nestra is a neutral country,” Xander frowns deeply. “They’ve refused to take sides in the war- this is a senseless act of violence.” He looks back at his retainers. “We’re moving in. Stay close.”
Laslow and Peri follow Xander down the main road that leads into the city. Wind whistles past them as they ride, a burning heat and smell of ashes growing closer. Soon enough, they also pass groups of fleeing civilians, clutching their belongings or family members. Some look up at the Nohrians with hopeful eyes, others only look fearful.
“You!” Then, Xander comes to a sudden stop. A man dressed partially in armour heralds a pair of children at his side. He looks up as Xander’s call.
“Prince Xander,” He immediately says.
“What happened here?” Xander asks.
“We were attacked out of nowhere,” The guard says. “Hundreds of soldiers throughout the city- no one saw them approach, and they started setting building alight, cutting through anyone they could reach.” He winces. “It’s as if they were inhuman.”
“We’re here to help,” Xander says. “Continue to evacuate the city.” He turns away. “Come.”
It doesn’t take long for them to find the Hoshidan forces. Prince Ryoma stands at the forefront, slashing angrily through the Nohrian soldiers sent ahead.
“Shit.” Xander swears under his breath. He glances at his retainers. “Keep the line steady.” He pulls at his reigns and his horse darts forwards. Laslow watches him draw Siegfried and start throwing blasts over at the Hoshidans. It’s always too familiar a sight, and not in a good way.
Laslow looks over at Peri. “You go left I’ll go right?”
“Okay!” Peri grins, turning her mount to the side. She already has her lance out and looks far too ready to start. “See you!” She starts off in the other direction, leaving Laslow momentarily alone.
The man sighs. He’s not ready to fight the same fight twice.
“…Selena?” Once again, the flow of battle is broken by a familiar face.
“Inigo, back off.” Selena walks right up to him.
“What’s going on?”
“They didn’t tell you?” Selena raises an eyebrow.
“…No?” Laslow shakes his head. “You’re fighting with Lady Corrin?”
“They know about our old friend,” Selena says. “They’re trying to stop him. Remember? Like our mission said?”
“How?” Laslow’s eyes dart around at the clashing soldiers. “What do we do?”
“Lady Camilla has agreed to take Corrin’s side,” Selena says. “She’s also got the younger Hoshidans too. It look like it’s only a matter of time before we’re all on the same side.”
“Do you think that?” Laslow asks.
“Your one might need an extra push,” Selena says, frowning. “Do you know where Odin is?”
“No.” Laslow shakes his head. “But- Severa, are you sure about this?”
“I’m not so sure what ‘this’ is yet, honestly,” Selena says. “Just- Be careful. Try to avoid doing any real damage-” She pauses. “Can you see them?”
“See?” Laslow asks.
“The invisible things.” Selena gestures around. “They wrecked the city and both sides are blaming it on one another.”
“Oh. Right.” Laslow glances around again. “They keep fading in and out.”
“Take care of some if you can,” Selena says. “Prince Xander and Prince Ryoma can squabble if they want, but we need to take care of them first.”
“Okay…” Laslow frowns. “Selena, be careful, okay?”
“…Got it.” Selena says. “Don’t worry about me, just make sure you keep your pretty head on your shoulders, got it?”
Laslow smiles. “Right, got it.”
“See you later, I guess.” Selena starts to walk off. “Don’t die!”
Chapter 7: Fortissimo
It would be over a season before Laslow would see his friends again. Information became tight and restricted. Laslow couldn't know where Odin was, lest the letters sent between them be seized in transit, and Selena had joined Corrin’s army of disappearing-reappearing soldiers.
But yet, even with all the pain and stress, things weren’t getting better.
A week after Cyrkensia, Xander, Laslow and Peri had been called to stay in a fort on the Nohrian border. Iago had met them there and spirited Xander away for almost an entire day. When he got back, however, Laslow wasn’t so sure that he’d actually returned. Instead, he got his own personal King Garon he was bound by oath to obey. No matter the target or the price, Xander would order the king’s commands to be done. Laslow was forced to watch men and women be cut down and slaughtered and there was nothing he could do.
Xander had become tainted by something- a dark presence that hangs over King Garon and the is slowly infecting the rest of the world.
But, no matter what happened, Laslow couldn’t abandon him.
“You can’t keep doing this.” Laslow sees Odin, finally, in a field south of the Hoshidan border. The fighting was light, and Corrin’s appearance here was a poor coincidence.
“I have to.” Laslow doesn’t move to draw his sword.
“We’re hearing rumours,” Odin says. “About the things that Prince Xander has been doing-”
“He’s following orders,” Laslow says. “Iago and the king are to blame.”
“But staying at his side isn’t doing anyone any good, cousin,” Odin says. “You’re being swept up.”
“I… can’t leave.” Laslow shakes his head. “I won’t stand against him, not after all this time. I know that things can still be made right.”
“…” Odin slumps. “I can’t entirely believe you.”
“Then don’t.” Laslow frowns. “Leave, go to wherever you’ve been going with Lady Corrin and Selena, and let us be.”
“We can’t just leave this war to go on either,” Odin says. “We’re trying for peace, just like you.”
“I can’t fight him.”
“Why?” Odin’s hand brushes Laslow’s.
“I love him.”
“The Hoshidan army is incoming.” Xander pours over a large map. “With Prince Ryoma at its head. Corrin has swayed most of the royal family to her traitorous cause, which means we’ll have less competition once they arrive.”
Leo sits on a tall chair a little ways away. His skin is pale and his expression taught. He’s been eerily silent ever since he returned without a retainer.
Niles lingers by the door, a serious expression refusing to leave his face. His fingers twitch towards his bow, ready to pull it free at a moment’s notice.
“We will put an end to this here, if we can.” Xander looks up from the map and to Iago on the other side.
The king’s advisor smiles. “Let’s hope we see some results, then.”
“Inform my father of this plan,” Xander says. “I shall make the preparations here.”
“The king expects much from this venture,” Iago says. “For your sake, I hope he is not let down.” He turns and starts walking towards the door. Niles glares as he steps aside, but Iago’s smirk never falters.
Once Iago leaves, Xander starts to roll the map up.
“Do you really think this is possible?” Leo’s voice speaks up. It’s somewhat hoarse and, looking up at his brother, his eyes are bloodshot.
“Even if we manage to fight of Prince Ryoma, where exactly would that get us?” Leo scowls. “More angry Hoshidans, more fighting, more dying.” He slumps forwards slightly. “Why are we doing this?”
“We are fighting to protect our country.” Xander speaks curtly, not looking at Leo. “We do as Father commands. That is why.”
Leo stares at Xander. His fists are clenched and Laslow can feel the build up of angry energy inside of him.
“Lord Leo!” Laslow springs away from the wall. Leo’s eyes snap over to him. “P-Perhaps this is neither the time nor place.”
“Laslow, do not-”
“Niles.” Xander turns to the door, catching Niles’ eye. “My brother requires rest and assistance. Look over him.”
“…Of course.” Niles steps away from the door and towards Leo. “Milord.”
“I can’t believe this,” Leo mutters. “Does nothing we say matter to you anymore?” He turns away from Xander. He walks towards Niles, walking right past and towards the door. As he passes Laslow, he gives him a pointed glare before disappearing into the corridor beyond.
“…” Laslow turns to Xander. He watches the prince roll up the map and tie it with the small ribbon it came with. “Milord?” He cautiously approaches.
“Yes?” Xander turns as Laslow comes up to his side.
Laslow hesitates. “Is… something wrong, milord?” He asks. “If there’s anything I could do to help-”
“That’s not necessary,” Xander says. “Continue to do your job, that is enough.” He steps around Laslow and heads to the door.
“Milord!” Laslow calls out after a few steps.
Xander sighs minutely before turning around. “Yes?” His eyes are cold. Laslow shivers.
“…Never mind.” Laslow’s shoulders drop. “Good evening, milord.”
Xander steps outside, closing the door behind him.
The Hoshidans arrive two days later.
In that time, Laslow could never get more than formal words from his liege. But, he has to keep trying. Whatever has affected him, he has to believe that it could be undone.
Prince Leo, however, had given up speaking to his brother and managed to convince him to let him leave. Laslow has no idea where he and Niles are now, but it’s not the issue at the front of his mind.
When the alarm bells ring, Laslow is already fully dressed and armed and standing in the courtyard of the fortress. Behind him is the only route to the meeting hall a floor above where Xander and some other soldiers are waiting. Laslow knows Peri to be among them; he wonders if he’s done something to require him being kept away.
The sounds of fighting quickly overtake the from of the fort. Sounds of metal on metal, of spells being cast and released. Laslow hears battle cries and shouts of pain. It’s almost too much to remain in here, away from it all.
The soldiers around Laslow stand at the ready in battle formations. Some look apprehensive, others look excited. Laslow’s not sure how he feels yet.
And then Ryoma appears.
“You.” Ryoma’s eyes narrow as he stares over the small field. Hoshidan soldiers emerge from the doorway behind him, quickly readying for another fight. Laslow wonders if they bothered to spare any of the outer guards, or if they’re all lying dead now.
“Prince Ryoma.” Laslow struggles to make his voice heard. He takes a deep breath. “My name is Laslow, retainer to Prince Xander of Nohr.” His shaky hands draw his sword.
“I’ve been ordered to keep you from my liege.”
“Does he not find the courage to face me himself?” Ryoma frowns.
Laslow hesitates. “…Surrender now, leave here with your men alive and yourself uninjured, or face the consequences.” The grip of his sword tightens. The words feel rotten falling from his lips.
“Lay down your own sword,” Ryoma says. “Step aside and perhaps I shall be merciful.”
“…Of course.” Laslow falls into a battle stance. “Then, it seems we come to agreement.”
“Perhaps.” Ryoma raises his blade. “Men, attack!”
Laslow ends up on his back, head resting on the edge of a shallow flower pot. Dirt and sand run through his hair and dirty his clothes. The sharp pain of the open wound at his side burns with every breath and aches with his heartbeat. The whole fight was… pitiful. He could barely muster the will to fight, let alone the strength.
He doesn’t know where Prince Ryoma went once he was done. The man likely had little care for where Laslow ended up and simply moved right on.
It hurts, seeing the man he thought of as a friend cut down his allies and storm his temporary home. He’s probably fighting with Xander and Peri now. That thought starts a flow of adrenaline through Laslow.
He can’t let them be hurt. He won’t let any of them die.
Ryoma may now be his enemy, but he once was his friend. Xander may now work against him, but until recently they worked together.
Laslow can’t accept this ending.
It takes a few minutes, far longer than he would like, for Laslow to struggle to his feet. He sees bodies strewn over the courtyard, both Nohrian and Hoshidan, and blood pooling around them. It stains red the white sand, like the bloody clouds that tinted the sun back home.
Using his sword as a cane, Laslow starts shuffling forward. The door into the fortress has been left open.
Laslow’s ears are filled with static, with pumping blood and his laboured breaths. He can’t even remember what wounded him, just the pain and the fall. He thinks he’s hit his head too, with the way his vision is twisting and turning. Though, they may just be the blood loss.
Laslow kicks the door properly open and staggers inside.
“S-Sir Laslow?” A Nohrian guard sits against the opposite wall. His armour is stained bright with blood. He’s only a little older than Laslow but looks up at him with pleading eyes.
“Where are they?” Laslow looks up and down the corridor.
“Left.” The man nods his head and then winces. “They may have already made it to Prince Xander.”
“…Right.” Laslow pauses, taking a deep breath.
“Please… Sir Laslow-” The man coughs. “Don’t let this end here.”
Laslow looks back down at him. “…It won’t.” He turns to the left and starts walking again. He doesn’t lean on his sword, letting his muscles scream in pain on their own.
Xander stands at the ready, back facing the thick stone wall emblazoned with a Nohrian banner. At his side, Peri hops on her feet excitedly. In here, it would be impossible to ride their horses, so they’re both left on foot.
Half a dozen of their best soldiers stand around Xander, all with their weapons drawn and at the ready. Xander can hear fighting outside and the ringing of the alarm bell but, here, there is only a lingering silence.
Then, the door is opened.
“Prince Xander.” Ryoma stands between the double doors. He lowers his hands from pushing them open. Raijinto gleams in one of them, electricity arcing off of the blade even as its held still.
“Prince Ryoma.” Xander holds his head high.
“Hiding away, are you?” Ryoma’s expression tightens. “Sending off your men to try and stop me. Is it possible you are afraid of this duel?”
“Afraid?” Xander bristles. “Don’t be ridiculous.” His eyes dart over the Hoshidan soldiers. “I hear your retainers abandoned you. Perhaps it is you that is truly afraid.”
“How confident you are, with only one retainer of your own now.” Ryoma raises his blade. Xander sees the blood dripping from it.
One retainer? Xander’s mind grinds to a stop. Why… Why is Laslow not at his side? He feels a sharp discomfort near the base of his skull and he can’t help but wince. Where was he…?
“Milord?” Peri whispers, looking over at Xander curiously.
Xander meets her gaze. If Laslow was truly stationed outside… His eyes snap back to Ryoma’s bloody blade. No.
“You-” Xander feels Siegfried burst to life in his hands. A wave of hot, terrible anger flies through him. Any distractions, any discrepancies are thrown to the side as Xander steps forward.
“Are you ready?” Ryoma scowls, also stepping up. “Then, let’s finish this!”
Chapter 8: Melody
Laslow has one hand up against the wall. He leaves bloodied handprints with each step, dripping more onto the stairs beneath him.
He can hear more fighting above him. Just a little further…
Laslow steps out onto the landing. His chest seizes with the final step and Laslow jolts forward. He manages to catch himself on a windowsill, white sunlight pouring in. It blinds him, just for a moment, as he looks up.
“Hey!” A pair of Hoshidans stand on either side of a half-closed door. They both raise naginata when they see Laslow.
“Get back!” One of them takes a step forward.
Laslow can’t fight them. He can barely hold himself upright. His eyes move up to the door. There. That’s where Xander is. He has to get inside. Laslow’s hand slowly raises up, reaching towards the door over fifty feet away.
“Stop moving!” The Hoshidan calls out. “Get on the ground!” He takes a step forward. “Hey!”
Laslow barely hears him. No, all he hears are the mixed voices inside, his vision being filled by white and dark energy. He’s so close…
“Hey!” The hilt of a naginata is knocked into Laslow’s side.
“Gah!” Laslow falls to the side. But, in that moment, he feels his fist close on… something.
Laslow lands on the ground, the world around him suddenly much louder than it just was. And, beside him is something soft and warm.
Laslow turns, eyes wide, to see Peri. She’s lying on her back, blood splattered over her dress and her armour. Her one visible eye stares at him widely.
“You’re alive…” She says, as if dreaming.
“Peri?” Laslow sits up, ignoring the sharp pain, and looks down at her. “Wait, hold on-”
“Lord Xander…” She tilts her head to the side, looking behind Laslow.
“What?” Laslow turns and, sure enough Xander and Ryoma are locked together - blades clashing, in the middle of the room. Both are visibly injured, open wounds and blood streaming down.
Laslow feels sick.
“No!” A rush of energy pushes him to his feet. The world around him fades out. There’s nothing else. Nothing but two men killing themselves before Laslow’s eyes.
A rush of pain.
Laslow barely registered his feet pounding against the ground, his arms splaying out wide and the indescribable pain that ran through him on both sides.
He remembers seeing Xander’s face, eyes wide with horror, before everything faded into heavy black.
Laslow woke up in a bed between Xander and Peri. Both of them were tucked under their own clean, white sheets, eyes closed and breathing even. The infirmary smells harshly of blood and medical herbs.
According to the doctor, Laslow had been injured worse than the other two, and there was no obvious reason to why he awoke first. But Laslow knew.
Laslow asked about Ryoma. “They retreated after Prince Ryoma fell unconscious. We didn’t have the means to go after them,” The doctor replied.
The days after that, Laslow spent most of his time resting, recovering, and lamenting. He was in pain, both physically and mentally, but he was so, so relieved that neither Xander nor Ryoma had left the battle dead. If Ryoma had succumbed to his wounds, Laslow is sure that they would have been told. Perhaps Iago would have appeared with congratulations. But the silence from the crown spoke well enough.
In his dreams, he sees the conflicting light and dark. He sees blood spilt over the floorboards, dripping from sword blades and staining armour deep, bright red. Laslow stays awake, a lit candle by his bedside and moonlight streaming in through the window above him. It’s neither dark nor bright, a peaceful grey in between.
Five days after waking up, already days after the battle, Laslow found himself strong enough to leave the fortress.
“Stay on guard.” He stands at the newly repaired gates, the thick iron spears raised just high enough to duck under. Laslow faces the guards behind the gate. “I will be back later tonight.”
“Of course, Sir Laslow.” The guards nod.
The right guard straightens up. He’s recovered well from his state when Laslow first found him on that day. “Be safe, sir.”
“I know.” Laslow smiles. “I’ll see you soon.”
The nearby town is technically in Nestran territory. It’s not small by any means, with a bustling night market shining bright light out visible even from a distance.
As Laslow walks down the winding road and towards the tall wall built around the town, he pauses in his step when he’s sure that no one is around. He reaches up to his ear, fingers grasping at the golden earring there. He fiddles with the clasp and eventually pulls the ornament free. With the motion, he feels a swell of warm, familiar energy wash over him. As Inigo lowers his hand, he sees the slight darkening of his skin and the pink strands of hair that fall over his eyes. His long, navy blue cloak covers up his casual clothes, ones he’d picked up in Hoshido when they were still in that territory years ago. Inigo tucks the earring into his breast pocket, careful to keep it secure. That one, small artefact is all that’s keeping ‘Laslow’ alive and his own identity safe. Inigo wonders if Severa or Owain have told Lady Corrin about their true selves yet. From how they appeared to him before, he guesses not.
The town’s gates are open. A lightly armoured guard nods to Inigo as he enters, his Hoshidan dress and foreign appearance leading to no cause for alarm.
The markets are bustling with various townspeople and visitors, but there’s an air of apprehension in the air. In his real form, Inigo can better feel the emotions of the people around him with barely any focus. He feels the nervousness, their fear and discomfort. Quietly, he reaches out to them, trying to calm them. It works slowly, but not well enough. The weight of the war has become too much.
Then, Inigo finds his output.
A bar, somewhat popular, with cheap drinks and a round stage at the far end. From his table, Inigo watches various patrons come up and perform at their leisure, performing drunken songs or making speeches. Even better, the large door and open windows lead out into one of the main market streets. People pass by somewhat curiously, peering in to see who’s made there way onto the stage. Some pause and listen, a few even coming in and sitting down at points.
Inigo takes his chance.
After a minute or so of silence, Inigo manages to pay for his drinks and step away from his table. It’s… a little daunting. He’s never done something like this to a group of strangers, but he needs to do something. All this sadness and negativity is burning him out and it’s been years since he’s had a chance to use his powers like this.
Inigo gets up on stage a little awkwardly. He starts sitting on the wooden stool with not much people even noticing he’s there. Only the barmaid, who he’d just paid, raises an eyebrow curiously at him.
Inigo takes a deep breath.
I stand by a river of water and wine,
It boils warmly, sending shivers up my spine,
The waves ripple up to grasp at the shore,
Wondering if life can offer anything more,
The bar starts to quiet. Inigo pours out his energy through the song. He was never as good a singer as his mother. He was never as good at his mother at anything. But, it’s one of the best ways to do this.
I walked along the riverbank side,
Flowers bloom through cracks in the sand,
The wind blows cool and gently,
Wondering why it took so long to understand,
Even with his eyes closed, Inigo feels a few people stopping outside as the energy in the bar starts to change for the better.
A red sky, a black sea,
A sheathed blade cutting into me,
Warm touches on my skin,
When will my light brighten from the dim?
Suddenly, something familiar grows close. Inigo’s eyes snap open. He sees a crowd settled in front of him, all smiling and ready. Inigo can’t see the person, but he can feel them. But… what would he be doing here?
Did you walk down this path too?
I can feel the freedom in my veins,
Water white and sky bright blue,
Wondering how to break these chains,
I remember living that peaceful life with you,
Eventually, Inigo finishes the song. The bar claps and cheers and the boy’s face heats up red. He scampers off stage and out of immediate view. He ducks his head at calls of praise, but can’t help but feel a sense of achievement.
He almost forgot about him.
As Inigo finds another free table and takes a seat, it only takes a few moments for his guest to join him.
“May I?” Ryoma, hair down and with a hood over his head, smiles at Inigo over the table.
Even though Inigo had expected it, seeing the man here…
Inigo chokes. He sees blood, bright red and painful. He feels the ache in his back, down his spine, and jolts forwards slightly.
“Are you alright?” Frowning, Ryoma leans forward.
“Y-Yeah,” Inigo manages. “Sorry, yeah." He looks back up at Ryoma. His kindness has been sharpened since the first time they met. It’s harsher, enough to stun an unsuspecting energy. It takes Inigo a few moments to get used to being so close.
“It's been so long since I last saw you, I thought I should say hello," Ryoma cautiously takes a seat. “Inigo, it’s been a while.”
“You too.” Inigo inspects Ryoma's face and hands. They're the only visible part of him, and they’re half covered in bandages. "What... happened to you?"
“That..." Ryoma glances down at his hands. “This war has only gotten worse. It’s to be expected from being on the front lines."
"I see..." Inigo frowns.
“But, may I ask what you've bene up to all this time?” Ryoma asks. “Are your friends here?"
"Oh, no,” Inigo shakes his head. “They're... off elsewhere.” He hesitates. "I've actually- after we left Hoshido, the three of us have been in Nohr.”
Ryoma shifts a little. Inigo feels his apprehension. “I... see,” the high prince says.
“We found work, made some friends,” Inigo continues. “Found a place to stay but now… It's not so viable.” Inigo turns away.
“I’m sorry for your troubles,” Ryoma says. “I am doing everything I can to end this war, so that all people can benefit from it.”
“…" Inigo frowns. "Are you?” He looks up at Ryoma.
“Excuse me?” Ryoma blinks.
“Are you truly fighting for peace?" Inigo asks. “Or only for vengeance? Revenge? Self satisfaction?”
“What are you saying?” Ryoma bristles.
“I’ve seen many things since we last met,” Inigo says. “I may be somewhat biased now , after all my time in Nohr, but I can't agree with your methods, Lord Ryoma.” Before Ryoma can speak, Inigo adds, “And neither do I agree with King Garon.”
“What… do you believe is the right path?" Ryoma asks carefully. He’s uncomfortable, but also curious. His initial flare of resilience has faded.
“There is always another option,” Inigo says. “One not of mindless war and bloodshed. There is always a better path. It may not be the easiest or the kindest, but there are many ways to get to any destination. One need only be willing to take that route.”
“..." Ryoma considers Inigo for a second. “You’re…”
“Sorry." Inigo apologises. “I’ve overstayed my welcome.” He pushes himself to his feet. “Good evening, Lord Ryoma,” He says, looking down at the man, just barely. “We will see each other again soon.”
Inigo walks out of the bar, ignoring the feeling of Ryoma's eyes on his back. He says nothing as he passes a pair of unfamiliar Hoshidans at the door. He sees them enter and approach the prince with worry. Inigo lets them fade into his periphery.
Inigo needs to head back. He's getting too emotional, he can feel the waves of energy flowing of of him. He’s under-practiced with his powers again. He needs to go back to his friends.
The moment he's out of town, Inigo puts his earring back on. It's calming, in a way, muting all those emotions, dulling his powers. With how highly strung everyone in the two kingdom have been, there’s no surprise that it all got to him. Laslow ponders his conversation with Ryoma as he starts his slow walk back. He definitely went too far, his bitterness and frustration getting the better of him. He just hopes that he didn’t give away too much. Ryoma’s a smart man, but he didn’t seem to be prying too much.
Laslow sighs. The pains along his skin have been disturbed to a point beyond just discomfort. He’s still not entirely healed, and how that fact is rearing its ugly head. Laslow will need to grab some stronger painkillers from the door before he tries to sleep.
But, as luck would have it, Laslow isn’t due for any proper rest anytime soon.
After a day of lying back in bed, pondering his own actions and beliefs and watching over his friends, Laslow is interrupted in the early evening by a soldier rushing into the room.
“Sir Laslow!” The woman has a long spear in hand and wears heavy armour.
“What is it?” Laslow sits up to greet her.
“We have visitors at the gate,” She says. “It- It’s Princess Camilla.”
Laslow starts. He pushes the blankets off of him and starts out of bed. “Who knows?”
“Just I and my companion at the gate.” She stands up straight. “No one else has been informed.”
“Keep it that way.” Laslow nods to her as he finally stands. He pulls his shoes out from under the bed. “Go wait for me, I’ll be down in a minute.”
“Of course.” She nods and starts back to the door.
In a moment of silence, Laslow turns to Xander. He looks peaceful, as if only sleeping; but the dark red circles under his eyes and the bandages visible up his neck betray the image. Laslow sighs. He finishes tying up his boots and grabs his jacket off the end of the bed. “I’ll be back soon,” He promises. “Just wait for me.”
Chapter 9: Obligato
Camilla stands a few feet from the gate, arms crossed. She tries for an air of superiority, but it’s swallowed in worry and anxiety.
At her side and draped in a long cloak, Corrin reaches out and rests an arm on her sister’s arm. “It’s going to be okay, Camilla. If Xander really was-” She fumbles. “Then we would know already.”
“I know.” Camilla lets out a small breath. “I cannot be satisfied with just knowing that, however.”
Corrin smiles, just a little. “I know.” She glances behind her, to where Beruka and Selena are both waiting. Kaze, too, is lingering in the shadows, out of sight just for now. Both the retainers are dressed conspicuously, hoods over their heads like Corrin’s.
As they stand there, the guard that first left them upon arrival appears from the gap in the large gate. They push one side of the large, wooden doors open enough to reveal the dark courtyard within and step outside. They lean over to their partner and whisper quietly.
“…Lady Camilla?” And then, a familiar voice speaks out.
Camilla looks up, spotting a figure walking towards them through the newly opened gate. He walks with a limp, bandages visible around his head. Still, Laslow greets her with a smile.
“Laslow.” Camilla breathes a sigh of relief but it quickly hardens. “You’re injured.”
“I’ll recover fine.” Laslow steps past the gate. His eyes dart over to the hooded trio beside Camilla. “Why… are you here?” He asks. “It’s dangerous.”
“As I’m aware,” Camilla says. “But I needed to know.”
Laslow smiles wider. “Lord Xander.” It drops a little. “He’s still unconscious, I’m afraid, I…” His shoulders slump. “I woke up first. Peri is down too, and over half of us are hurt or dead.”
Camilla frowns. “And the Hoshidans?”
“They retreated after Prince Ryoma fell,” Laslow says. “Not dead, simply injured as well.”
“I see.” Camilla nods. “Perhaps we should speak elsewhere?”
“Right, of course.” Laslow gestures for her to follow. “Come with me.”
Selena jogs forward first, passing Camilla and Corrin to rush to Laslow’s side. It doesn’t surprise the Nohrian princess, if anything, it’s welcoming to see.
Corrin stays beside Camilla as they enter inside. The two guards give a nod as they pass but say nothing more. Once Beruka and Kaze slip in too, the doors are pulled closed behind them.
Laslow leads them back to the infirmary, up the thin stairways and cold corridors. He tries to avoid the areas worst splattered with blood, which ends up with a slightly longer than usual route.
“What happened?” Selena scowls at him. “You’re limping.”
“Tends to happen,” Laslow says. “It’s not as bad as it looks.”
“It better not be,” Selena says. “You look terrible. Worse than usual.”
“Gee, thanks.” Laslow chuckles. He’s tired, too tired to be offended. “What about you?”
“What about me?” Selena asks.
“How have you been?” Laslow asks. “It’s been a while since we’ve seen one another.”
“I’m obviously doing better than you,” Selena says.
“That’s good,” Laslow says. “But, why are you here?”
“We’re actually trying to stop the fighting, you know,” Selena says. “So, when we heard that this place got attacked, we needed to check it out.”
“You mean, Lady Camilla and Lady Corrin were worried about Lord Xander,” Laslow says.
“Basically,” Selena huffs. Then, “How bad is it?”
“Not as bad as it looks.” Laslow comes to a stop outside the door. He pushes it open and steps aside. “Take a look.”
“Xander!” The moment she’s inside, Corrin throws her hood back and rushes to Xander’s bedside.
Camilla quickly follows her, resting a comforting hand on her sister’s back.
“Shit.” Selena scans the room and then turns back to Laslow with a scowl. “Looks like you’ve been spending plenty of time in here.”
“Too much,” Laslow nods. He walks over to his bed and sits down, glad for the rest.
“Hm.” Selena sits down next to him. They’re left facing Peri’s unconscious form, dark bruises visible up her face and arms.
“No kidding,” Laslow says. “We don’t even have a healer on staff anymore and it’s not like they’ll send one down.” He frowns. “Before this- Iago came by. Basically said this was the last chance.” He glances over at Xander. “What’s the saying in Nohr? Victory or death?”
“Something like that,” Selena says. “…Prince Leo and Niles are with us now.”
“I guessed so.” Laslow nods. “The two got into a fight and Lord Leo stormed off. Lord Xander- He didn’t seem to bothered by it.” He looks over at Selena. “He’s been acting weird- not like himself at all.”
“How?” Selena asks.
“He’s been… worse,” Laslow says. “Ruthless, merciless. He did everything the king or Iago ordered and more. It’s been… terrifying.” He shakes his head. “I don’t know what to do. A part of me hopes that, once he wakes up, he’ll be back the way he was but… he still feels the same, like this.”
Selena turns to face Xander. “Like Garon?”
“Exactly like Garon,” Laslow says. “It’s… also just like our old dragon friend.”
Selena scowls. “Somehow, I’m not surprised.” She turns back. “You should come back with us.”
“And abandon everyone here?” Laslow frowns. “No.”
“Oh come on!” Selena glares at him. “Sticking around here hasn’t done any good. If anything, it’s making things just worse for yourself.” She shakes her head. “And I have to deal with Odin complaining about not seeing you- Right now is the best chance we’ll get, since these two are knocked out.” She gestures towards Peri. “And we actually have healers. Princess Sakura and Lady Elise can do more than a regular doctor can do, and you know that.” Her shoulders drop with her vigour.
“I won’t let you keep hurting yourself, Inigo. I promised to look after you, even if you don’t want me to.”
“…” Laslow stares down at his hands. She’s right, of course she is. But, just part of him was holding onto some hope, hope that things could still get better on the calmer route. “Okay.” He looks up at her. “If you’ll have us.”
“Of course we will.” Suddenly, Corrin steps around the bed and into view. She smiles at Laslow brightly. “You’ve been protecting my brother all this time, so thank you, Laslow,” She says. “We can get you, Peri and Xander proper help and get you back together with everyone else.”
“What about the soldiers here?” Laslow asks. “I don’t know if the king will take them back, and there are wounded in need of attention worse off than we are.”
“We have allies in Cheve ready to help,” Corrin says. “We’re not too far from there and they can send healers this way.”
“Are the soldiers here trustworthy?” Camilla asks. “We can’t risk being exposed or putting the Chevois in danger.”
“They are.” Laslow nods. “They’ve been fighting with us this whole time. They’re loyal to Peri, Lord Xander and I. I helped train some of them myself- Most don’t care for King Garon at all.”
“That’s as good as we’re going to get.” Corrin smiles. “I’ll get Scarlet to come here too, just in case though.”
“Then we can go soon.” Selena gets off of the bed. “I’m already sick of this depressed place.”
“…Alright.” Laslow smiles. “Let’s go.”
Laslow takes time to say goodbye to more than a few of the castle’s inhabitants. He apologises for leaving but leaves promise of aid coming by soon. He packs up his things, those he kept in his room and didn’t relocate to his bedside, and, before dawn breaks, makes his way back to the infirmary dressed and ready.
“Don’t break a bone or something trying to carry all your shit.” Selena immediately swipes a bag from his grasp. “You always have too much stuff.”
“Not that you can talk,” Laslow says back. “I wonder who would win on a set of scales?”
“Don’t make me drop this,” Selena scowls, walking away still with Laslow’s bag.
Selena and Laslow head over to Corrin and Camilla at Xander’s bedside. The pair of princesses are conversing quietly but cut off when the retainers approach.
“Ready?” Corrin asks. “We’ll open the way in just a minute.”
“How will you bring Lord Xander and Peri?” Laslow asks. “They can’t exactly move on their own.”
“We’ll have to take the beds as well,” Corrin says. “I’ll try and land us in the infirmary, so they’ll barely have to move.” She looks over at smiles a Kaze as he pushes the two occupied beds together.
“Ready when you are, milady,” He says.
“Great.” Corrin grins, turning back to Camilla. “Okay?”
“Let’s go.” Camilla nods. To Laslow, she says, “Hold onto Peri just in case. These trips can be a little rough.”
“A-Ah, okay.” Laslow walks over to Peri. He awkwardly places his second bag on the bed beside her and, carefully, takes her hand in his. Her hands were always strangely cold, but now the feeling is more than a little disturbing. Laslow holds her tight, pressing his warmth into her. It’s not much, but its the best he can do.
The secret, floating world lost in time appears far brighter than Laslow remembered it. A dark blue sky hangs above them, with rolling green fields broken over shining stone wet with falling waterfalls. White spray and mist float through the air, barely flowing in through the partially open window.
The small group land in a large room of wood and stone and already with half a dozen beds lined up against the wall.
“Eek!” With a surprised cry and as the light fades, Laslow sees Princess Elise jumping back in surprise. “Corrin!”
“Ah, sorry Elise!” Quickly Corrin steps forward with an apology. The room is lit only dimly with candlelight, drawing long, dark shadows over the walls. No wonder Elise was surprised to see them.
“Ah!” She focuses on Laslow and the two new beds between them. “Is that-” She ducks around Corrin and rushes to Xander. “Xander!”
“Quieter, darling,” Camilla says. “He’s still resting, see?”
“B-But-” Elise lowers herself beside the bed. She looks over at Peri and then back at Laslow.
“Hello there, princess,” Laslow smiles at her.
“Laslow.” Elise smiles, just a little. “You’re okay?”
“I’m okay.” Laslow nods. “And so will Lord Xander be. He may need a bit of your help, though.”
“R-Right!” Elise quickly gets back to her feet. “I’ll go get my staff!”
“Selena, how about you take Laslow to one of the free rooms,” Corrin says. “We’ll take care of things here.”
“Oh yeah, sure.” Selena reaches out and grabs Laslow by the hand. “Come on.”
“Hey!” Laslow frowns indignantly at the force but goes along with her. He’s sure to grab his bag before he’s pulled out of range. “Not so hard!”
Odin is rudely awakened by a sharp knocking at his door.
“Eugh…” He blinks awake, bundling up in his blankets. “What the-”
“Odin!” A loud voice calls out. “You in there!?”
“Selena…?” Odin groans, eventually sitting up. “What do you want!?”
“Get out here!” Selena bangs on the door again. “Up!”
“Okay!” Odin mutters angrily to himself as he gets up. What is so important that he needs to be woken up before dawn? He’s not even up for any duties this morning!
“What is it!?” Odin tugs open the door. He frowns out at Selena, her arm up to knock again.
“About time,” She huffs, rolling her eyes. She takes a step to the side, nodding her head to the figure behind her.
“Hey.” Laslow smiles at her, looking tired and worn, but undeniably present.
All of Odin’s fatigue burns away in a split second. “Cousin!” Odin practically leaps forward, pulling Laslow in a tight embrace.
“Woah!” Laslow laughs. “I’m not going anywhere, you know.”
“I don’t know that!” Odin protests. “No! You will remain here!”
“Lord Xander and Peri are here too,” Selena says. “They’re out cold now, though. I doubt this idiot’ll run off without them.”
“Oh, happy days!” Odin beams. “You must recount to me the great tales of your lost adventures, Inigo of the Indigo skies!”
“How about tomorrow?” Laslow offers. He smiles tiredly. “I think I’ll pass out if I’m on my feet for a moment longer.”
“You’re welcome into my demonic abode, cousin,” Odin says.
“He has his own room, you know,” Selena says. “We were heading there now.”
“There’s no harm in it,” Laslow says, smiling at Odin. “How long has it been since we shared a room?”
“It’s as if eons have passed!” Odin grins.
“This is stupid.” Selena frowns.
“You don’t have to stay,” Laslow says.
“Stupid.” Selena pushes Laslow inside and then steps inside herself. “I have to leave in a few hours, so don’t complain if I wake you up.” She pulls the door closed behind her.
“I wouldn't dream of it.”
True to her word, the three only lie in quiet for three or so hours before Selena pushes her way out and leaves with he creaking of the door.
In the pale sunlight streaming in through the window, Laslow shifts where he lies under the messy covers. “Hey, Owain, you awake?”
“Hard not to be,” Odin chuckles. “Severa’s pounding gate could put a stampede of bulls to shame!”
“Don’t tell that to her face,” Laslow cautions. Then, “It’s good to see you again.”
“You too.” Odin smiles, even if Laslow can’t see him.
A short silence covers them.
Then, with a sigh, Laslow sits up.
“What’s wrong?” Odin turns his head to watch him.
“I just… I don't know.” Laslow shrugs. “It’s been a weird few days.” He reaches up and easily removes his earring.
“I still don’t know what happened,” Odin says. “I heard that the fort where you and Lord Xander were staying was attacked by Prince Ryoma and his army.”
“It wasn’t pretty.” Inigo sighs. “I- Seeing him again up so close was…”
“Strange.” Odin sits up. He twists a golden ring off of his finger. There’s not much of a change, only a lightening of his hair, a golden shine grows in his eyes and dark freckles spray over his nose. “Yeah, it must be.”
“And…” Inigo shifts to look at Owain. “I may have seen him in town yesterday.”
“You saw Prince Ryoma?” Owain frowns. “Where?”
“Just a bar,” Inigo says. “He was covered in bandages and had some people following him around. He came and said hi when he saw me though.” He pauses. “I may have been a little rude to him.”
“Ha!” Owain laughs. “I’s not as if you can be blamed for it, cousin.”
“I feel bad about it,” Inigo frowns. “I was too harsh on him, but- I just kept seeing the fight between him and Lord Xander.” He shivers. “…You’re right. I haven’t told you what happened- on that day and with Lord Xander recently.”
Owain hesitates but, after a moment, he slings an arm over Inigo. “Take your time.”
Inigo takes in a shaky breath. “W-Well, it started a little while ago…”
Chapter 10: Reprise
It’s at only around midday that Odin and Laslow finally emerge. Laslow gets changed into lighter clothes, no longer his wrinkled old ones, and is sure to reattach his earring.
“Don’t you have to attend to Lord Leo today?” Laslow watches Odin slip on his sandals.
“Not until this evening.” Odin grins. “I can show you around Lady Corrin’s decadent palace! She moulds it through the great draconic energy that flows through this world!”
“Like dragon veins?” Laslow asks.
“Exactly like that.” Odin stands up and starts to the door. “But, before that, I should introduce you to someone.”
Odin takes Laslow by the hand and pulls him through the castle courtyard. Laslow recognises a few faces scattered around, from Nohrians to Hoshidans alike. Actually, now that he, Peri and Xander are here, Prince Ryoma is the only member of the royal family not yet added to Corrin’s army.
They head towards a large temple embedded into a towering green tree. Water pools beneath it, steaming from an unknown source. Odin easily steps inside, heading through the arching doorway.
“What is this?” Laslow asks, heading in after him.
“Peace, cousin.” Odin glances back at him with a grin. “You’ll see shortly.”
“Hm?” Then, a soft voice speaks out.
Laslow looks up and sees the… dragon? floating in the air ahead of them. “…What.”
“Greetings, Lilith!” Odin raises his hand in greeting.
“Lilith!?” Laslow blanches. He looks at the dragon up and down, from the familiar bonnet on her head to the fish-like fins.
“Hello again.” Lilith smiles. “It’s been quite some time, hasn’t it?”
Years ago, after a whispering voice led them through thick woods and over shallow streams, three young heroes were coerced, somehow, into leaping into the depths of the Bottomless Canyon.
“Ow!” Severa lands first, tumbling onto the grass below. “What the hell!?”
“Look out below!” Owain calls out, barely giving Severa time to scoot out of the way. Odin lands shoulders first, rolling forward as he lands.
Then, with nothing except a terrified yelp, Inigo lands atop his cousin. He blinks, looking up at the green-ish sky and sickly tint to the grass and flowing water. “What is going on?”
“At least that voice wasn’t lying to us.” Severa frowns and gets to her feet, looking around. “Unless we’re dead.”
“Hm, I’d hoped the afterlife looked a little nicer than this,” Inigo says. He peers down at Owain beneath him. “Hey, you there?”
“I may be-” Owain groans. “If you’d stop crushing my lungs.”
“Jeez, sorry.” Inigo gets off and then pulls Owain up.
Suddenly, the voice of a chuckling man starts to reverberate around the trio. Inigo immediately tenses, hand flying to Falchion. “Who’s there?”
“Ah, sorry.” The voice speaks out. It’s clearer than it was in the forest above them, but still recognisable.
Inigo relaxes only slightly. “It’s you.”
A warping flitter of colour starts to pool in the air in front of them, eventually solidifying into a humanoid form mostly obscured by a white robe. Only a few stray strands of blue hair fall past the man’s pale face, his lips curling into a soft smile.
“Who are you, then?” Severa asks, arms crossing over her chest. “You’ve led us into this weird place, I think we deserve to know.”
“And of course you’re right.” The man nods. “I am Anankos.”
The newly classified dragon-god-man then went on to explain. He explained about himself, being only a stray fragment of his true self. He explained about his child who escaped this place of Valla, the hidden kingdom. He explained about the curse, that would destroy those who spoke the truth and of the wrath of his other self, that is exerting its power over men and feeding a war between kingdoms already left festering.
He asks for help. He asks they protect his child, that they seek out his own destruction and aid in the ending of the war.
In return, when he received the last of his stolen powers, he will give them the strength and means to defeat Grima in their own world.
“I have a question,” Inigo says.
“I expected no less.” Anankos nods. “Anything.”
“How… long do you think this will take?” Inigo asks. He rubs at his hands nervously. “We’ve already been away for so long- And things were only getting worse back home-”
“There is no need for you to worry.” Anankos smiles. “You may not have remained here long enough to realise but, as long as you remain in this world, your bodies will not age. Your own world, of which only temporary link was forged, is currently passing time far, far slower than here. A year here will only equate to just over a day in your world.”
“I… see.” Inigo nods.
“Naga has some extraordinary powers- I’m sure she made that connection so that you would lose minimal time outside of your home,” Anankos continues. “But, as for the time you will spend here, I cannot say.” He shakes his head. “Perhaps it could conclude in a matter of months, but I’m afraid it could take up to a decade if we’re unlucky.”
“So… all we need to do is go back to Hoshido, find this kid of yours, and help them end a generations long war between two opposing kingdoms.” Severa counts on her fingers. “A task that may take up to a decade. Sure, sounds fair.”
“I’m afraid that, otherwise, I cannot help you,” Anankos apologises, looking genuinely upset. “I wish that I could, and that no more children would have to be drawn into this conflict, but I’m out of options. I swear, the moment that it’s possible, I will do everything in my power to help you.”
“…What do we think?” Severa looks to her friends.
“…” Inigo frowns. “Like he said. This is really the only way for both of us.”
“This world is ripe with dark secrets and powers that I am eager to imprint into myself.” Odin grins. “A war between the light and the darkness- It would be an excellent place to feed my dark powers!”
“I think that’s a yes.” Inigo smiles at Severa.
“Well, fine then.” Severa turns back to Anankos. “We accept.”
“Thank you.” Anankos nods. “I-” He stops, eyes seemingly darting upwards. “They’ve found us.”
“They?” Inigo echoes. “Who?”
The air around them seems to grow tangible, waves of purple-black energy pulsing as near-inviable figures start to appear around them. They’re dressed in armour and holding weapons, every part of them shifting in and out of solidity like a mirage.
“What the hell?” Inigo quickly draws his sword. “What’s going on?”
“Here, quickly.” Anankos holds out his hand, water-like energy flowing from his hands. “This is the best I can offer you.”
“What-” Inigo looks down, watching the energy swirl around him. He watches his skin pale closer to white, the tiny scars visible on his hands fading into nothing. Beside him, he watches his friends also change, their hair losing their bright colour and their eyes fading into neutral shades. But, with the physical transformation, Inigo feels a shift in his body, a surge of energy rushing through him.
After that, the worrying threat of the strange soldiers became less than a challenge. Inigo cuts through one of them, Falchion cutting through the thinner parts of the armour and sending them to the ground.
“Ugh!” At his side, Owain lets out a irritated groan. “Sword hand!? Why do you forsake me so!?”
“What’s wrong?” Inigo sends a glance his way.
“My technique is failing me!” Owain bemoans. “Yet my aching blood craves the destruction of my enemies!”
Inigo’s eyes catch the book still hanging from Owain’s waist. “Try something else, then!” He knocks another enemy away. “Make it your ‘spell-hand’!”
Owain catches on in an instant. “Of course!” He pulls the tome free, the pages flying open automatically. “Dragon’s blood, be the scourge of these beasts!” A plume of fire soars from his hands, absorbing a line of soldiers and sending them burning to the ground.
“Do you see the light?” Anankos’ voice interrupts Inigo’s thoughts.
Inigo looks around, trying to spot the disappearing god, but can’t see him anywhere nearby. “What?”
“Ahead of you,” Anankos’ voice says. “Against the grass, do you see it?”
Inigo looks around. He can sense it, a well of strong, draconic energy pooling barely visibly on the ground. Tiny dancing waves of golden light ring around the grass. “I see it.” Inigo starts forwards.
“You and your cousin, you have the blood of dragons in your veins,” Anankos says. “It wouldn’t usually be enough to activate a dragon vein, since they were crafted with the same energy that runs through the Nohrian and Hoshidan royal families only. But, while you’re in my world, you can use them freely.”
“Right…” Inigo comes to a stop over the vein. He can feel the surging energy beneath him, slowly seeping up into his body.
“Focus your energy,” Anankos says. “Push it through the vein.”
Inigo does his best to follow the instructions and ignore Severa shouting at him from across the field.
“What are you doing!?” She demands. “Give us a hand!”
The vein activates. Tumbling boulders of rocks fly up from the landscape around Inigo, forging a sturdy path to an adjacent island topped with some stone-brick ruins.
“Over here!” Inigo waves to his friends.
“How did you do that!?” Owain demands, running over.
“I’ll explain later!” Inigo starts over the bridge. “Come on!”
Walking towards the ruins, Inigo marvels at the bright blue glow visible across the delicate mosaics over the ground. When he approaches, he feels his various cuts and grazes start to gently heal up.
“They just keep coming!” Severa jogs into the ruins, breathing heavily. “What’s the plan?”
“There’s only one way for them to go, now,” Inigo says. “We stay here and hold our ground.”
“What’s with this place?” Severa looks down warily at the glowing ground.
“It will take care of any minor wounds,” Anankos voice answers. Owain jumps slightly in response. “This place used to be a place of worship and lingering powers still remain.”
“Good to know.” Severa turns back to the bridge. “Let’s mow these guys down.”
The last soldier falls, tumbling to the ground as their armour clangs noisily.
“Phew.” Inigo lets out a breath of relief.
“Ugh, took long enough.” Severa sighs. “Hey, Anankos? Where’d you go?”
“…I am here.” Anankos re-solidifies beside them. “I apologise for doing so little to help, but I am almost entirely bereft of my powers.” He looks over to Owain. “You have magical abilities now, don’t you?”
“Yeah, what’s up with that?” Severa asks.
“I hoped to give you strength based on your internal desires and expectations,” Anankos says. “Your appearances changed to fit your expectations of the people in this world, so that you may not look too out of place. These forms will also age naturally, as long as they are being worn.”
“Can we take them off?” Inigo looks down at himself. He’d noticed how his hair had greyed mid-battle.
“Yes, of course.” Anankos nods. “They’re each attached to a metal accessory of yours. My powers gravitated to them naturally and, I believe, that removing them shall remove those forms.”
“An accessory?” Inigo’s hands jump up to his ears. Sure enough, when his fingers brush the larger earring in his right ear, he feels a pulse of cool energy. He unclasps it easily and, when it’s pulled free, he sees himself return to normal. “Oh.” He reattaches the earring.
“And to your new strength and abilities,” Anankos continues. “It was formed from your own desires from being here.” He smiles at Owain. “You were seeking new magical abilities, it seems.”
“Does that mean he’ll be able to shoot off spells even when we get home?” Severa asks.
“Not entirely,” Anankos says. “You should retain most of what you learn here, but your new strength comes in exchange for your previous abilities. Your true forms and these new ones will only share a fraction of their powers.”
“…Sure.” Severa shrugs.
A shockwave suddenly rocks the island beneath them.
“Woah!” Inigo stumbles, grabbing at Severa’s sleeve for support.
“What now!?” Owain falls to a crouch.
“More?” Anankos looks around again.
“The one you seek is no longer in Hoshido.” Out of the thick smog, a new figure appears. At their side, more invisible soldiers stand at the ready.
“And who the hell are you!?” Severa snaps.
“That is of no importance,” They say. With a held out hand they continue, “Take them down!”
The soldiers all lunge forward, a good dozen or so of them leaping towards the trio.
“Wait!” A tidal wave of Anankos’ energy surges up. It creates a wall between the two parties, even knocking back some of the faster soldiers.
“You had that in you the whole time?” Severa scowls.
“Get them!” The mysterious figure waves their hands again. But, with Anankos’ action, a soft wave of air is blown towards them, blowing the smog away.
“Huh?” Inigo pauses. “A girl?”
“Dammit.” Dressed in a Nohrian-style, simple maid outfit, the blue-haired girl raises a hand up to her face instinctually.
“Who are you?” Inigo asks. “You’re not like those other things.”
“Of course not!” She frowns. “I am Lilith! A loyal and devout child of the great Anankos!”
“You have another kid!?” Owain turns to Anankos.
“Impossible.” Anankos scowls.
“Not you!” Lilith snaps. “I was born from the true king Anankos!”
“The other me is fathering children?” Anankos shakes his head. “How upsetting…” Quickly, he jolts out of his stupor. “Heroes!” He looks between Owain, Severa, and Inigo. “If he is sending his pawns here specially, then it may be best for you to escape this place.”
“What, and leave you here?” Inigo frowns.
“This is getting far too dangerous,” Anankos says. “My powers are failing me- I will not be able to protect you.”
“Then you’re lucky we don’t need protecting,” Severa huffs.
“T-That’s right!” Inigo turns to him. “We’ll definitely take care of this, Mr Anankos, so just stay out of danger, alright?”
“A noble quest for the greatest triad of heroes!” Owain cheers. “Let us challenge every foul obstacle that dares face us!”
“Insolent humans!” Lilith growls.
“You should get back.” Inigo looks at Anankos with a smile. “Keep yourself safe with that wall. For now, we’ll take care of things.”
Anankos stares at him, his wide, yellow eyes barely visible under the hood. Then, he nods. “Be careful.”
The fight is… far less easy than the one prior. This Lilith may look sweet, but she packs a dangerous punch. But, somehow, they managed to succeed.
“D-Do it, then.” Lilith lies on the ground, clothes torn and bloody. She looks up with fiery eyes.
“You’re awfully pushy, you know that?” Severa frowns.
“I feel bad attacking such a cute girl,” Inigo admits. “Do you really wish for your own death?”
“Only cowards take the life of those unnecessarily.” Odin nods.
“W-What…?” Lilith frowns, seemingly confused. “Who… are you?”
“Lilith.” Anankos cautiously approaches.
“Imposter,” Lilith spits. “What do you want?”
“Only the truth,” Anankos says. “For both me and you.” He extends a hand to her. “If you are a child of his, then you are also a child of mine, even if you would prefer it not be that way.”
“You are no father of mine!” Lilith smacks his hand away.
“Hey!” Inigo calls out. “Why are you so adamant about this?”
“I- I must be loyal to the great king,” Lilith says.
“Does he make you call him that?” Inigo asks. “You don’t call him Father? Does he call you by name?”
“…” Lilith bites her tongue. “That’s none of your business.”
“You-” Anankos is cut off as Lilith suddenly and violently starts to seize.
“AAAGH!” She reels forward to the ground.
“What’s wrong!?” Inigo jumps forward.
“F-Father!?” Lilith gasps, eyes wide. “W-Why are you- Is this because I-I failed you…?”
“What a bastard,” Severa mutters. “Hey!” She turns to Anankos. “Do something!”
“I…” Anankos cautiously moves in. “My child…” He rests his hands on her back. She’s too overwhelmed to push him away. “Shh…” Anankos’s body shines with his energy. Inigo watches his energy slowly run out of himself and into Lilith.
“What are you-” Inigo catches himself. If it’s his choice, then…
Lilith stops shaking. She takes in deep, heaving breathes. “I’m sorry,” She whines. “I’m sorry…” She slowly looks up at Anankos. “W-Why? Why would you do this for me?”
“You… are still my child…” Anankos speaks, obviously tiring and out of breath. “I… Owe this to you… at least.”
“…” Lilith turns to look up at the three heroes and then back at Anankos. “He… He never loved me…” Tears start to well up in her eyes. “He was just using me… always…” She sobs. “I don't understand…” She shakes her head. “I needed to kill you… But, I cannot bring myself to…” She looks back up. “…Father.”
Anankos smiles. “It’s alright now-” He winces. Inigo can see that his powers are almost completely faded. This form he’s upholding won’t hold out for much longer. As if sensing his realisation, Anankos looks up at Inigo. “You all need to leave this place, including you, Lilith.” He glances down at her. Water-like energy starts to pool around his hands again. “I will see you again. But, for now, I know that you can succeed.”
“What- Just like that?” Severa starts, watching the water rise up and swirl around them.
“Good luck.” Anankos smiles, watching the water rise up around Lilith. “Be free, my child…”
“You saved me.” Lilith floats in her temple with a warm smile. “You helped me see the wrongs I was committing and led me to the right path.”
“You’ve been helping Lady Corrin all this time, then.” Laslow smiles. “That’s good. Sorry we couldn’t all be here sooner.”
“No, it’s alright,” Lilith says. “I was worried, initially, that you were pursued after you left here. But, hearing of your employment in the castle was a relief.”
“A lot has changed since that day, huh?” Laslow muses. “New names, obviously.” He grins at Lilith. “And this dragon form is quite something.”
“My human form was gifted to me by him,” Lilith says. “I prayed to the divine dragons for strength in the other realm, but I am now content to exist like this now.”
“At least you’re happy,” Laslow says. “You know, even though we only were together for a short time, I still considered you a friend.”
“What a coincidence.” Lilith laughs. “So do I.”
Chapter 11: Andante
“This place is really something.” Laslow sits on the steps before the elaborate throne overlooking the courtyard. From here he can see just about everything, from the weapons shop to the dining hall to the lottery and coliseum.
“Truly a marvel of the senses!” Odin grins.
The bright, midday sun glares down at them, casting dark shadows at their feet and from the rooftops above.
“It’s… peaceful here,” Laslow notes. “Nothing like it is outside.” He sighs.
“What plagues you, cousin?” Odin asks, leaning over. “I always have an ear at the ready.”
“I’m… not sure,” Laslow says. “I’m uneasy, I guess? It’s just really different, and not really what I expected.”
“Perhaps you should speak to Lady Corrin and Lady Azura,” Odin suggests. “You haven’t spoken properly, have you?”
“I guess not.” Laslow shrugs.
“Lady Corrin commands the very fibrous structure of this place,” Odin says. “And she listens to any qualm anyone has. I’m sure she could help you.”
“I don’t know if it’s something that can be helped,” Laslow says. “But, sure, I’ll see if I can steal a moment from her.”
“…” Odin watches Laslow like a hawk.
“…What?” Laslow turns. “Can you not stare at me so intently?”
Odin snickers. “My apologies.” He averts his gaze. “…By the way, you know that Princess Hinoka is here correct?”
“Yeah?” Laslow says.
“Severa and I worked beneath her for quite some time while you were missing,” Odin says. “She’s only somewhat suspicious, however, but we’ve been careful to avoid her when possible.”
“Think she’ll recognise you?” Laslow raises an eyebrow. “It was years ago now, was it not?”
“Severa claimed it better not to risk it,” Odin says. “Still, I believe you should do the same with Prince Ryoma’s retainers.”
“Oh, right. They’re here aren’t they?” Laslow nods. “Saizo and Kagero. I saw them on the border months ago, but I haven’t felt them come near since I arrived.”
“Best try to keep it that way,” Odin says.
“…” Laslow pauses. “Must we, though?”
“Is it wise to continue masquerading as others?” Laslow asks. “Perhaps… we should tell the truth. To Lady Corrin at the least.”
“You may be right, cousin.” Odin nods. “Severa and I spoke of the same thing.”
“And?” Laslow asks.
“We wanted to wait until you were also with us,” Odin says. “I suppose that time has now come.”
“Right.” Laslow nods. “We should also ask Lilith about it, I think.”
“It may somewhat include her.” Odin nods back. “Are we decided?”
“We’ll talk to Selena first and foremost,” Laslow says. “Hm. I’m actually kind of excited. I miss being me.”
“You’re not alone in that.” Odin grins. “Yet, the hour rings on hence. Perhaps we should fetch a midday meal before any further discussions.”
Laslow laughs. “Sounds good.”
“Oh, Xander…” Corrin sits at the Nohrian prince’s bedside. The room is otherwise empty, save for Peri’s unconscious form.
Corrin reaches out and takes Xander’s hand in hers. “I… I need you here, Xander. I don’t know what I should do, or even if I made the right choice.” She squeezes tight. “I’m doing my best, but I was never as good of a leader as you. I was never as good as you at anything.” She sighs. “So, you need to get better. You need to wake up.” She leans forward, forehead resting against his hand. It’s warm.
“…Corrin.” A soft knock sounds at the door.
“Azura?” Corrin sits up and turns just as the door creaks open.
“Sorry for interrupting,” Azura says. She closes the door behind her.
“No, it’s fine.” Corrin shakes her head and manages a smile. “What can I do for you?”
“You’ve been in here all morning,” Azura says. “I was starting to get worried.”
Corrin’s smile falters. “Sorry. I’m fine, really.”
Azura’s eyes dart over to Xander. “…Maybe you should come out for a little while, have some lunch with everyone.”
Corrin, ever so gently, lets go of Xander’s hand. “You’re right. I’ll be out in a minute.”
Azura nods. “I’ll be waiting.” She steps back outside, the creaking door closing over the sound of her footsteps making their way back down the hall towards the courtyard.
Corrin sighs. “Please, wake up soon.” She gets up, giving Xander one last look before she starts towards the door.
Just as Corrin closes the door behind her, she ends up face to face with an startled man.
“Pardon me, milady.” Laslow quickly flashes her a flirty grin.
“Oh, Laslow.” Corrin takes a step back, widening the short space between them.
“Are you here to see Xander?”
“I thought it’d be best to stop by, yes,” Laslow says. “For both milord Xander and Peri.”
“She’s Xander’s other retainer, right?” Corrin asks. “You must be close.”
“She’s a good friend.” Laslow nods. “Albeit a bit eccentric, but who isn’t?” He chuckles.
“You’ve got a point there.” Corrin smiles. “Sorry, I’ll get out of your way.” She steps around him and starts walking down the corridor after Azura.
“…Lady Corrin?” Laslow’s voice brings her attention back.
“Yes?” She turns, already a good few paces away.
“I-” Laslow stumbles over his words. “I was hoping we could have a chance to talk sometime soon.” He rubs the back of his neck with one hand and a faint blush slowly becomes visible on his cheeks. “It’s not any sort of uncouth meeting, mind you,” He quickly adds. “Just… there’s some things I wanted to talk about.” His eyes dart to the adjacent room. “Somewhat about Lord Xander.”
Corrin stiffens. “Of course.” She nods resolutely. “How about I come find you this afternoon? Azura’s already said I need to be out and about a bit more.”
“Yes, sure!” Laslow grins with relief. “Sometime this afternoon, then. I’ll keep an eye out.”
“Good afternoon, Lord Xander.” Laslow smiles as he takes a seat beside his liege. Though, simply referring to him as such feels somewhat reductive. While in the last few months, Xander may have returned to only being his lord and liege, Laslow considers him a good friend more than anything else.
“And to you too, Peri.” Laslow turns to his other side, smiling at the woman. Peri, too, he considers to be a good friend. After all the time they’ve spent together, on and off the field, how could he not? While she may scare off most, Laslow’s come to appreciate her charm and support her through tougher times.
“They’ve got both Nohrian and Hoshidan cooking here, you know,” Laslow says. “I’m sure you could appreciate that, huh Peri?” He smiles. “I’m sure they wouldn’t be able to hold up to your baking skills, though.”
Fingers thumbing through each other, the emptiness and silence almost becomes too much to bear.
“And!” Laslow takes in a deep breath. “It’s so warm and sunny here- You wouldn’t believe all the flowers and plants they have growing. It’s far better than Nohr, temperature and climate wise. But, it’s a little daunting seeing so many Hoshidans around. I know it’s not entirely comfortable for them either, but still…” He sighs. “I know it would be easier if you two were here with me.” He looks between them again but, despite his silent prayers, they remain still and silent.
“…I guess simply wishing for it won’t yield much results,” Laslow mutters. With another sigh, he pushes himself to his feet. “I need to talk to Odin and Selena,” He says. “Who knows, maybe by the time you wake up, I can tell you a few secrets of mine.” He grins over at Xander. “That’s what you’ve always wanted, right? After years of prodding and probing?” He chuckles. “Let’s just hope.”
“Ah, Selena!” Odin grins wide as he spots the redhead’s signature twin tails amongst the crowd. Around midday everyday, most of the army congregates in the middle of the courtyard, coming by for lunch or just to talk. Most do their shopping or swapping of duties around this time too, so it’s much busier than normal.
“What are you shouting about?” Selena turns as he approaches.
“Laslow and I need to talk to you about something,” Odin says. “This evening? In private?”
Selena’s brows furrow. “About?”
“Secrets.” Odin winks at her.
“…Fine.” Selena rolls her eyes. “We’ll talk then.” She scans the crowd around them and the small buildings lining the main walkway.
“Is… something wrong?” Odin blinks. “Selena?”
“Where’d she go…?” Selena frowns.
“Uh, excuse me.”
Odin feels her approach even before she speaks up. His senses may be significantly weaker than Laslow’s, but they can still act up. Hinoka feels bright and sharp, like a hard line drawn in the sand, like a red diamond reflecting onto a harsh white.
“Princess Hinoka!” He turns, trying to swallow his gasp of surprise.
The Hoshidan princess looks at him with an eyebrow raised and a somewhat bemused expression.
“Do you need something?” Selena quickly interjects.
Hinoka’s gaze shifts. “Yeah, I wanted to ask you two something.”
Odin feels his stomach turn. Uh oh. “O-Of course! What would you ask of us, milady?”
Hinoka regards them for a second. “Sorry if this sounds strange, but, I wanted to ask if the two of you were really Nohrians.”
“Why do you ask that?” Selena asks.
“A few reasons,” Hinoka says. “Are you?”
Selena’s eyes catch Odin’s gaze. And, after a moment, she seems to come to a conclusion. “No, we’re not,” She says. “Nohrians, that is.”
“I… see.” Hinoka pauses thoughtfully. “Have you ever been to Hoshido? Before the war, that is.”
“We passed through,” Selena easily answers. “On our way to Nohr, where we’ve been living the past few years.”
“…” Hinoka frowns. “Did you have any contact with my family? Have we ever met before?”
“Do you have something in mind, Princess?” Selena asks.
“Somewhat,” Hinoka says. “I knew a pair of mercenaries that you remind me of. They worked with me for a few months before leaving.” She looks both of them up and down. “The resemblance is a little astonishing- except for a few things.” Hinoka looks ready to continue, each of her words placing far too much stress on Odin’s chest. She’s definitely got them.
Luckily, or unluckily, they’re all quickly and suddenly interrupted.
A loud bell starts ringing, it’s deep bellow echoing through the courtyard and over the castle.
“What the-” Hinoka turns. “The alarm!”
“We’re under attack.” Selena turns to Odin. “You armed?”
“With no doubt!” Odin quickly retrieves a tome and holds it ready in his hand. He doesn’t miss how Hinoka’s eyes zero-in on it.
“A mage, right…” She shakes her head. “We need to see what’s going on.” Around them, the rest of the army is already mobilising, heading off in all directions to find the source of the alarm.
“I need to find Princess Camilla,” Selena declares. She spares Odin a glance. “Lord Leo was by the lottery tent.”
“R-Right!” Odin nods, watching her run off.
“Where are Setsuna and Azama!?” Hinoka has a hand over her eyes as she scans the field. With the flapping of wings, Odin has to duck as her pegasus swoops down to her side.
Odin swallows his hesitation. “Lady Hinoka!” He calls up.
Half-way through mounting her steed, Hinoka looks down at him. “Yeah?”
“I cannot in good conscience leave you without aide,” He says. “Would you allow me to escort you in the meantime?”
Hinoka hesitates, clearly surprised. Then, “Alright, if you can keep up.”
“What the hell..?” Laslow peers through the small window to the infirmary. He can hear the loud ringing of the bell, as well as the shouting of people in the courtyard.
His eyes dart down to Xander and Peri. If they’re truly under attack, then he can’t just leave them here…
Drawing his sword, Laslow places his back up against the wall beside the window. He can’t see anything quite yet, no foes or friends alike, but he’s sure that they’ll appear soon.
“Don’t worry, milord,” He says. “I’ll stay right here.”